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Member Update: Korea National Park Service Responds to the COVID-19 Pandemic

As one of the first countries to be affected by the COVID 19 pandemic, how did the Republic of Korea’s national parks respond to the outbreak?

The Korea National Park Service (KNPS) has adopted a wide range of strategies on visitor management, community outreach and staff safety management in order to respond to the challenges of COVID-19.

We need to adopt measures that safeguard our visitors, staff and the communities living in the national parks, while making sure that visitors can still enjoy nature and the services it offers. We want people to see our national parks as a refuge and reconnect with nature in this very unfortunate time,” said Mr Kyoung-up Kwon, Chairman of KNPS.

Measuring visitors’ body temperature

Measuring visitors’ body temperature © KNPS

To ensure the safety of park visitors, social distancing reminders have been posted along the 170 main trails in Korea’s national parks. Public facilities such as campsites, shelters and visitor centers were closed in late February 2020; these facilities have been gradually reopened as the number of new domestic cases of COVID-19 in the Republic of Korea has fallen. Face-to-face visitor programmes have been banned since the outbreak; however, alternative visitor services have been provided through YouTube and other social media platforms.

Social distancing campaign for park visitors © KNPS

COVID-19 has had a great impact on the well-being of local communities in and around the national parks. To help ease these negative effects, KNPS has conducted a variety of social outreach activities, including donating special funds and providing relief and safety supplies. In addition, to revitalise local economies, drive-through farmers’ markets (which reduce face-to-face contact) have been put into place.

Providing relief and safety products to local communities © KNPS

KNPS has also implemented many different measures to create a safe working environment for its staff. These have included: the initiation of work-from-home arrangements in two shifts; the implementation of a health protocol on wearing masks; the installation of infrared thermometers at office entrances; the designation of one single entrance gate; and the introduction of flexible lunchtime hours.

Utilising the Social Network Service (SNS) for park visitors © KNPS

Following government standards, we developed our own staff management plan, which aims to ensure the safety of our staff while working in the national parks. To the extent possible, we continue to conduct our monitoring activities as planned, while operating in a modified business-as-usual scenario,” said Mr Kyoung-up Kwon.

Utilising the Social Network Service (SNS) for park visitors © KNPS

To ensure a proactive response to the social changes resulting from the pandemic, KNPS has also developed a suite of post- COVID-19 national park management strategies. The strategies will strengthen the use of virtual reality technology and YouTube to enable people to appreciate nature without actually visiting the national parks. The use of artificial intelligence and drones in park conservation activities will also be increased.

For more details about KNPS’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, please view a case study presentation here.