From my corner of the world, the corona virus has essentially only changed some daily habits. I wanted to talk about what has been happening in the past six weeks from my perspective
The Beginning – So, it started sometime in January. The first infected arrived in Korea and it slowly spread over a few weeks. Just a few cases here and there and some even being cured. However, the number suddenly went up. Instead of one or two cases every few days, it was hundreds.
Work – Throughout this time, my work was doing everything they can to reassure the parents (so we don’t get sued). Students were wearing masks during class but they’re young and it’s hot so they ask to put it in their backpack after an hour after they arrive. I’ve been stricter with their hand washing and we’ve always used hand sanitizer before they ate their snack and before their lunch. The school also used a higher concentration of chemicals in the spray to wipe down the tables and door knobs. Some parents even complained that the teachers were not wearing masks.
However, the night of February 23rd, our managers sent us a text saying that the students won’t be coming to school anymore and that we will work on Monday, the 24th and discuss what will happen. The message was sent a few hours after the President had issued that the public school start date would be postponed by two weeks (to March 9th), and then again postponed by another two weeks (March 23rd).
The Spread – There was a lot of finger pointing and lots of people demanding to turn away the Chinese from coming to Korea. But the virus doesn’t care about borders or your skin color or your wealth. With the first thirty patients, the government released exactly where these patients have traveled so that people can find out if they were in contact with them. Some university student also created a website that had a map and the travel path of each patient. It had the hospitals that were being used as quarantines as well. This app crashed a while ago and now there is just a simple site that updates with the numbers for infected, deaths, and cured, as well as locations. The cases suddenly jumped due to a woman who attended church services and was in close contact with a lot of people. I won’t go into details about this pseudo religion because a lot of people are mad at them because they “spread the virus.” Would people be just as mad if it was a christian church or a Catholic Church? The government demanded a list of members and have been systematically going through the list and checking all of these people. There are other clusters of the virus spreading like in a hospital because the staff didn’t know that a patient had the virus and so they unknowingly spread it to other patients.
Government Response – From my point of view, the government is doing a great job. Sure they could have done some things sooner or some things better but generally, it’s been great. The Korean government has been so transparent with the information of who is infected and their travel paths. It’s actually scary because suddenly everyone in the country has access to where you went on a certain day or few days. Some people feel like they’ve been exposed. The KCDC has developed a testing kit that delivers results in a few hours. They’ve also built drive thru testing sites so people don’t have to get out of their cars while a sample being taken from them. Also, this test is available to everyone, even the people who are staying here illegally can take it and they won’t be in trouble. It’s free for everyone, but if you test negative, it’s only around $150 which is cheaper than what I’ve heard in America.
Emergency Alerts – My phone has been going off multiple times a day since the third week of February. The emergency alerts vary. Some are reminders to wash your hands and cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze. Some are talking about not gathering in large groups either to protest or to pray. Others are updates on the infected and to visit a web page to see where this person has traveled.
Public Places – Living in Seoul, there has always been ton of people everywhere but now, there are less people going out. Cafes and restaurants are practically empty (great for me since I go solo often) and even the shops are empty too. I was walking around a shopping area and a sales lady hooked her arm around mine and guided/dragged me into the shop. I feel really bad for all of these people and the businesses because the economy is suffering. The grocery stores themselves remain fully stocked (except for masks). People are ordering their groceries online and those have been selling out but are usually restocked after a couple days.
So what’s the takeaway here? Wash your hands. Cover your mouth. If you’re showing symptoms, stay home, and don’t go to the hospital. There’s a special number to call so they can come around and pick you up. I don’t know if it’s the same in the States. Life hasn’t stopped. People aren’t being hysterical. Almost everything is still open with the exception of some museums. Lots of events have either been cancelled or postponed. But people are living their lives. There was an article about the flu cases actually going down because people are washing their hands and covering their mouths (the Korean uncles are notorious for not covering their mouths…maybe a post about this later…..).
Anyway, we are all trying to be careful and it will be manageable as long as people keep their hygiene standards so high and honestly I hope it stays this way. Don’t just wash your hands and cover your mouth when there’s an outbreak.
Now some pictures of normally crowded places!
You can see how many people are here if you go to my post on Gyeongbokgung Palace.