Coronavirus in South Korea

I remember sitting in front of my computer during New Year’s eve browsing Twitter and begun noticing a lot of mentions about a place in China called Wuhan, videos and pictures showing people falling down in the streets and becoming very ill and dying.

Links to the Chinese social media Weibo showed accounts of hospitals overrun and the army taking peoples temperatures at train stations, nurses and doctors becoming distraught in hospitals and people overflowing in hospital corridors all sick. These posts all had the same name coming up ‘Virus’. Little did we know how fast it would spread to the rest of the world.

January 20th 2020, was when the first reported cases of the Corona 19 virus, (at this time it was still be classed as the Wuhan virus) had been confirmed in South Korea. Not much at this point had changed, business and other daily life was still going on as normal. News media was still relativity quiet locally and aboard. Twitter was still the main place for information.

It wasn’t until February when things started to change. It was the evening of the 20th, when the small number of cases began jumping into the hundreds, the next morning it had increased more and by Saturday 21st 346 cases had been confirmed.

Almost overnight the whole country had come to a standstill, roads clear, people nowhere to be seen, schools closed, businesses put on reduced hours or workers made to work from home. It had emerged that the sudden jump of cases was down to a patient related to an organization called Shincheonji, a cult that has interesting ways of being ‘close’ when meeting. The patient had been to many meetings in Daegu, located in southern Korea. This cult has over 200,000 plus members.

From then the race was on to get a list of all members in Korea and to test them, this resulted in a very long drawn out process. For one members of the cult are supposed to hide the fact that they are members. Local governments and police had to raid many offices related to Shincheonji to obtain members details as the heads of the cult where not forthcoming with information.

I do feel that if the Shincheonji situation hadn’t have happened there would have been a lot less cases here. From then on we saw numbers jump and the news media picked up on South Korea being a new hot bed for the virus. Countries imposed restrictions on people coming from Korea and for weeks there was reports of South Korea having thousands of cases with each day adding to the tally.

Korea really did get it together when it looked like a full outbreak had begun. The government stepped up and was fully transparent and clear with how it was going to deal with the situation. They communicated clearly with the public through emergency messaging services and having daily briefings about the number of infections and to this day all of this is still active. The testing centers all over the country opened up almost immediately. You can get tested just by driving your car and not having to leave it, the results come in less than an hour.

More and more people wore and are wearing masks these days, this was the first time I have ever worn a mask in Korea. Restaurants, coffee shops, cinemas etc operate good social distancing rules, with every other seat or table not available to sit at. Food delivery services and delivery drivers, leave items outside your door and inform you of delivery via instant message. Costco even introduced social distancing at its branches and made those stand 2m apart while waiting to pay, along with removing all tables from its dining area and making people take out instead.

At the start of the outbreak here in Korea there was panic buying of alcohol gel hand wash and masks, plus price gouging did happen. However the government did clamp down on this and put in a system where you could pick up masks on a different day depending on your birth year and showing your ID card.

Korea is ahead of the trend when it comes to online shopping and shipping is usually fast. However at the beginning of the outbreak there was a few delays and certain online retailers such as Coupang did have delivery issues and had to suspend shipping after a certain time because there was a huge demand from everyone staying at home and ordering. This does now seem to have been fixed.

Korea may have been one of the biggest virus hit countries outside of China in Asia. However with a quick response from the national and local governments and the brave work from medical staff throughout South Korea, the rate of infection looks to have peaked. There still are cases daily however with the country coming together and limiting the amount of social contact the number lowers each day. The death rate in Korea stands a lot lower than other countries at about 1.7% thanks to the response from the health service here.

While we are still not out of the woods yet, South Korea has proven that with it’s bid to get on the outbreak quickly and opening up testing stations all over the country, having clear communication and developing a quick and effective testing kit it has shown to be a role model for how other countries could handle the pandemic.

As a business owner here I have had a lot of feelings, genuinely angry and upset at some points especially with the cult Shincheonji and how they didn’t seem to care that they where spreading the virus all over the country, they classed themselves as victims, they where far from it. I have had to close my business for over a month, however the government has provided support. I do look forward to the day when life gets back to normal, I also wonder what the world will look like after this.

I should note unlike other countries around the world there hasn’t been lock down orders from the government here in Korea. There has been social distancing campaigns and a lot more checks when it comes to entering buildings with temperature checks and hand washing stations along with enforcing mask wearing in places.

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