Could Coronavirus Expose Your Extramarital Affair?

In South Korea, public health alerts allow people to see where infected patients have been before they were hospitalised…

A woman wearing a face mask looks at her phone as she stands on a street in Seoul.

by Georgia Aspinall |
Published on

People inSouth Koreaare being subjected to embarrassing privacy invasions as their affairs are made public in attempts to quell the spread of thecoronavirus…sometimes literally. The government has been sending out ‘safety guidance texts’ to inform the public about the locations that infected patients have visited with press and social media users then speculating on what those patients could have been doing.

‘A woman in her 60s has just tested positive,’ a typical text would read. ‘Click on the link for the places she visited before she was hospitalised.’ The link then takes the person to a website that lists places the patient visited before testing positive.

As you can imagine, this has led to a lot of snooping from the pubic and South Korean press about what people are getting up to. In one case, an alert showed that the man contracted the virus from an instructor during a sexual harassment class.

In another, an alert showed that a man in his 50s had been to Wuhan province with his 30-year-old secretary – both of whom had been infected. Speculation then occurred online that they were having an affair – and also, based on other places they visited, that they had travelled to Wuhan so the secretary could get plastic surgery.

A third case saw a woman accused of insurance fraud after she told authorities she had been hospitalised with injuries from a car accident but was continuing to go to work, a wedding and lunch with friends. Despite the alerts not naming patients, reporters managed to track her down and get her to deny the allegations publicly on television.

And one particularly notable case saw a man taunted for his sexual behaviour by people online after the text alert said they had been unable to track his movements since arriving at Seoul’s main train station. The area nearby is known as a hub for sex work, with many accusing him of paying for sex in online forums. It turns out there had been a technical glitch and he had actually been eating a nearby restaurant.

The alerts only reveal the patient's gender, age and case number – however given the location information, some people's identities are being revealed as the names of shops and restaurants are detailed. This has also caused a number of restaurants to close temporarily for fumigation with fears they will be put out of business.

According to the Guardian, one restaurant owner has been contacted by a blackmailer threatening to say he went to the establishment before being infected and demanding money for his silence. Police are investigating the incident.

‘I find myself eavesdropping on customers’ conversations these days just in case they turn out to be a…fraudster,’ said Kim Na-hee, owner of the restaurant. ‘I thought I only had to protect my health, but now I think there are other things more scary than the coronavirus.’

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