BUSAN, SOUTH KOREA—Sometime around the end of the first week in February, I woke up to a familiar sort of buzzing from my cellphone—a distinctive burst of noise and vibration that brought to mind the mobile alerts for an earthquake in Japan, where I worked for several years as a foreign correspondent. In this case, the buzzing signaled a different kind of disaster: new Covid-19 infections.
The first one was distressing, but for days afterward, the slow trickle of alerts that followed it was almost reassuring: stray noises, disconnected from the steady, destructive rhythm of the virus, which had by then infected well over 50,000 people in China. If the buzzing signaled anything, I thought, it was that Covid-19 had found no momentum in South Korea.
Then, on February 18, these intermittent alerts started coming in constant, angry bursts.