Why do South Koreans wear face coverings and how come it’s no big deal? 

28 July 2020

Recently, Good Neighbours UK welcomed two new additions to the team. Katie and Jenny are both students at York St John who want to learn more about work in the not-for-profit sector.

We asked Jenny to write about her experiences of wearing face coverings in her home country of South Korea and how we in the UK might adapt and change our attitudes to doing the same here.

As we know, the whole world is currently under threat from Covid-19. Here in the UK, we’re starting to implement the use of face coverings. There has been some resistance to this.

On the other side of the world is South Korea, who have a reputation of handling the situation well. Even after the second wave hit, the situation is being controlled carefully again. Many have stated that this was due to S. Korea’s use of face coverings and active testing.


In South Korea, the pollution is quite severe and the levels of fine dust (or micro dust) is very high. ‘Fine dust’ isn’t something we hear about in the UK. But the reason why fine dust is considered dangerous is because there are carcinogens and nano particles called PM2.5 present in the air.

This is a threat to the respiratory system. During days with severe fine dust levels, the Korean government sends out a warning text. Therefore, many people in South Korea have air-purifying devices in their homes and offices as well as wearing masks on days when the levels of fine dust are very high. This has allowed South Korea to get used to the idea of wearing a mask so masks are not really seen as a sign of disease or illness but as a form of protection.


SARs (2003) and MERS (2015) had a great impact on the way many South Koreans view masks and face coverings. Both of these viruses had a much higher death rate than the current coronavirus.

This meant that the South Korean government, as well as many other East Asian countries, already knew how to deal with the current threat.

Once, there was a huge mask shortage. The government listened to its citizens so that everyone could buy masks twice a week. This was based on the last digit of everyone’s birth year, which determined what day they could buy masks at the pharmacy. This allowed the pharmacies and the government to get a hold of the huge mask shortage situation.

Stay safe. Wear a mask.

Stay safe. Wear a mask.

Masks as fashion accessories

‘Lookism’ culture is quite prominent in Korea and many people are very aware of their appearance. In recent years, masks have been used as a fashion statement. Many celebrities have used masks to cover identity or as a fashion item.

Now that summer is here, many Koreans don’t want to wear masks as it’s much warmer than it is in Britain. It was reported to be the hottest June in South Korea on record as it went average 28˚C this year. Many people are afraid of getting heat stroke.

Face covering isn’t just something that protects you from getting ill, it is also seen as a sign of respect and being considerate to the people around you.

Tips for wearing face coverings:

  • Knowledge around how the virus moves with and without face coverings gives a greater understanding of why everyone should wear face coverings.
  • Covering your face shows you’re helping key workers.
  • Wearing face coverings is protecting you, your family or the people you live with as well as society.

Remember, there is a possibility that people you meet may contract the virus from you. Please wear face coverings for everyone!

Wearing face coverings in S.Korea

Wearing face coverings in S.Korea

Categories: Education, Emergency Response, Health, International, UK