"This year, we're not having a family gathering because of COVID."
Like millions of other South Koreans, I've had those around me - from my executive director to fellow reporters to close friends - share that message as so many of us figure out what to do about the upcoming holidays in this age of COVID-19.
A traditional Chuseok holiday for the average Korean usually begins with tens of millions of Koreans making mass exodus to home towns for family get-togethers, to share huge meals, perform ancestral rituals, visit ancestors' grave sites. And, it's just days of family bonding.
But the pandemic has changed decades of tradition.
Elderly parents are telling their grown-up children to stay put in the city and memorial parks are offering online ritual services.
Health authorities, however, remain on alert ahead of the holidays that begin in less than two weeks' time.
"There are a number of risk factors that could spark a huge outbreak. The biggest being a mass exodus for the Chuseok holiday as it could spread the virus across the country. Also worrisome is the 'balloon effect' - there's been an increase in reservations at various vacation spots.
Please help us break the chain of Covid-19 infection by refraining from making visits to hometowns, traveling and even small get-togethers."
That's because while only 16-percent of South Koreans said they planned to return to their hometowns for the Chuseok holidays this year - the lowest ever since the nation began taking record in 1989 - many of the nation's vacation spots are booked to their full capacity for that period.
Covid-19 safety during the upcoming Chuseok holidays: it's the topic of our News In-depth.Live in the studio with us tonight are Arirang's go-to medical expert, Dr. Alice Tan, Internist at MizMedi Women's Hospital and Dr. David Kwak, Physician at Soonchunhyang University Hospital.
Dr. Tan, Dr. Kwak, thank you both for joining us on the show.
(TAN/KWAK) Let me begin by asking you two about your plans for the Chuseok holidays this year.
(TAN) Instead of traveling home for the holidays, it seems South Koreans are opting to spend the five-day holiday at the nation's scenic vacation spots. Dr. Jeong Eun-kyeong referred to this phenomenon as the "balloon effect." How do we explain this, Dr. Tan?
(KWAK) Of course, it's all the more worrisome because the nation grapples with triple digit increase in Covid-19 cases for the 14th day despite having observed tougher social distancing measures for the last week and a half. Why aren't we seeing the kind of drop that health authorities had anticipated?
Do you think, perhaps, the recent easing of stringent social distancing rules in the greater capital area has had any impact?
(TAN) Another central concern for the nation's health officials is the ever rising cases whose epidemiological links cannot be identified. For the last few days, it's been setting new record highs - today at 26.4 percent. That means for more than one in every four positive cases, epidemiologists cannot trace when, where and how the patient contracted the virus. What does this mean and why is this concerning especially with the Chuseok holiday coming up?
(KWAK) The resurgence is not limited to South Korea. In fact, the situation appears to be much more serious over in Europe. The WHO today warned that the surging coronavirus figures across Europe should serve as "a wake-up call.
It makes me wonder is resurgence inevitable? What will it take for us to finally declare that the Covid-19 pandemic is finally done and over with?
(TAN/KWAK) So, keeping the caseload under control until a vaccine and/or treatment is made available appears to be key. To do that, for this country at least, it definitely seems that how we spend the upcoming holidays will be critical.
With Chuseok now a week and a half away, how do you propose that the authorities regulate crowding at vacation spots? Flights to the island of Jeju, for instance, are reportedly booked to capacity for those days and lodging in Jeju is now hard to find.
(TAN/KWAK) The government has set two weeks, starting on the Monday of the Chuseok holiday, as a "special quarantine period" to enforce preventive measures against the spread of infections.
Decisions will be made over the weekend, but as health experts, how do you think the nationwide level of social distancing should be adjusted? And, when would be the right time to tighten restrictions - should it be a few days leading up to the holidays or as we begin Chuseok?
(KWAK) Though not conclusive, recent test results showed only 0.07% of Koreans had developed antibodies against Covid-19. What are the implications?
(TAN) Holidays are supposed to be a time for family gatherings and this Chuseok season must be all the more difficult emotionally and psychologically for everyone but especially our elderly parents, friends and family. How do we help the elderly cope with social isolation and loneliness that physical distancing may be causing?
Dr. Alice Tan, Dr. David Kwak, thank you both for your insights this evening. We appreciate it, as always.