The Newsletter 87 Autumn 2020

Negotiating the new normal in the COVID-19 era

Jongseok Yoon

On 12 August 2020, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide had increased to over 20 million, and the possibility of a second or third wave looms in the horizon. At present, it is difficult to estimate the long-term accumulative socioeconomic consequences of this novel virus, but one thing is clear: the pandemic has laid bare the weakest links of society that have heretofore been ignored or neglected.

Faced with an uncertain future, Seoul National University Asia Center (SNUAC) hosted an urgent roundtable under the title ‘Novel Coronavirus, Social Shock and Prospects’ on 18 February 2020; collaborating with several research institutes and other institutions and with the participation of Korean and overseas scholars, a further three academic conferences regarding COVID-19 have since been hosted. Comprising a total of forty presentations and seven discussions covering topics such as infectious diseases and disease prevention, human rights issues and socioeconomic influences, governance and civil society, international order and global governance, public diplomacy and international development cooperation, these events provided an opportunity for researchers to come together (on-line) to diagnose in detail the current situation of, and tasks facing, both individual countries and wider regions.

The experience of the past six months has made it clear that prospects for the future must emerge from a consensus that is shared beyond borders. It may also be suggested that when the dust settles, a ‘new normal’ must be created in the post-COVID-19 world. Lessons have been learned from the ongoing pandemic and new directions have been discovered amidst the chaos, the most important of which is that the negotiation of this new normal must take place based on an ethos of openness and sharing, alongside the construction of a database in which the curation of field experience as well as traditional forms of data occurs, and it must involve the expansion of multi-layered global cooperation.

Currently, SNUAC is seeking to contribute to the negotiation of the new normal by forming the Seoul National University COVID-19 Research Network (SNUCRN; with local and international researchers. Research topics relating to COVID-19 that are currently being explored by this network include the comparative study of global metropolises and the comparative study of East Asian regions; the publication of Country Reports for major countries and the building of a database with the data from these reports is also taking place. However, in order to truly overcome the effects of the pandemic in the long-term and the cumulative influence of COVID-19, the building of a new paradigm with much more global cooperation and mutual assistance must take place. SNUAC anticipates future cooperation with overseas experts and research institutes and welcomes any suggestions for opportunities of collaboration in the creation of a new normal.

Jongseok Yoon, HK Research Professor, Seoul National University Asia Center,