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  • An Atlien's Experience With Covid-19 In South Korea

    April 28, 2020 5 min read

    ski trip in South Korea

    Just a heads-up: Everything in the following post is solely based on the experience of one American currently living in South Korea during the Coronavirus outbreak. I will not be including any numbers or statistics as I honestly don’t feel like doing the extra research to write about it. 

    Jalen and Soo at a cafe in Bundang

     Hi, my name is Jalen Durham. I’m an African-American from the city of Atlanta, Georgia. I’m a 26 year-old ESL teacher currently living in South Korea, specifically in the Gyeonggi Province. I’m currently doing my fourth year of teaching over here. My standard routine consists of: waking up every morning at 7:30 a.m., going to teach my wonderfully adorable students (I teach Kindergarten ages 4-5), coming home and showering, and finishing the night by playing games or studying Korean. On the weekends, I hang out with my amazing friends at bars, cafes, parks, etc. Life in Korea is honestly really good. I’m healthy, happy, and (to be honest) I get to eat Korean food all the time. It’s truly fantastic.

    However, coronavirus changed all of that. Now, I’m forced to stay home (mostly) and find various ways to entertain myself for the entire month of March. So, I’ve been asked by a few people to write down my personal thoughts on the COVID-19 outbreak in South Korea. Normally, I don’t really write blog posts as I don’t see it as something that interests me; however, I’m willing to share my perspective on how things were handled here in South Korea versus how they’re being handled in the U.S.’s current state. For starters, let me explain the massive spike that happened just a few weeks ago.

    Around the time the virus was making its way around South Korea, one woman, who was called Patient 31, refused to be quarantined when asked and attended what would become a rather panic-inducing church service. See, this woman was a part of a well-known cult in Korea called “Shincheonji”. I won’t go too into detail on how big this cult is, but I’ll just say that it had quite the following. Anyway, Patient 31 had attended a service, while infected, and caused the massive Daegu case spike, which is when South Korea shot up to #2 of the most infected in the world. I’ll explain other things later, but something that should be known about this spike was that the government eventually hunted down everyone who was at that service and had them tested and quarantined.

     I know that you’re thinking,  “Jalen, that was a witch hunt!”

     Yeah, and it saved probably thousands of more lives because these cult members were bent on not going into hospitals to get tested and protect everyone else.

    Now, it was this spike that made Koreans panic, sure, but not in the same way Americans did when cases began to rise in the States. No one was buying up all the toilet paper (in fact, most Koreans questioned what the hell y’all were doing anyway). No one dragged store shelves into their shopping carts, leaving nothing but a barren wasteland in E-Mart or Costco. Instead, Koreans went out and “panic-bought” masks and vitamin C. That’s it. They didn’t stock up on packs of ramyun. They didn’t drain stores of all the water bottles(which is probably physically impossible over here as it seems all stores have an almost endless supply of packs of various sizes). They just bought masks and vitamin C. Honestly, it was pretty amazing to see how quickly pharmacies and stores not only ran out of masks but had to jack up the prices as hospitals were running out of needed supplies.

    I will say, although South Korea has had one of the best recovery rates, it definitely didn’t have the best start. Things were probably almost the same as how the States reacted with the only exception being that Korea has already experienced two other outbreaks like this: SARS and MERs.

    Most Koreans were kind of laid back before Daegu hit. Still, despite that fact, everything was handled very well. All costs were taken care of by the government. A hotline was set up for people who believed they had the virus and wanted to get to the hospital without spreading it more. Tests were free for people showing symptoms, and, even if you weren’t showing symptoms, you could pay a rather small fee of 100,000-200,000k Korean won (roughly around $110-$210). Services were also offered to parents after schools were closed for all of March. Basically free babysitting while parents had to still go to work, if it was necessary. The government took care of what they needed to do and helped their people as best they could. I’ve been thoroughly impressed by them for the entirety of my month-long corona-cation.

    If you couldn't telework, then you were basically left to stay at home until further notice from your job/company (my coronacation lasted 8 weeks).

    Restaurants and bars were still open with only clubs shutting down until quarantine was up.

    In Korea, there was no 6 foot rule,  it's actually hard to follow that kind of rule when our public transit is enclosed, but people do their best to not be too close to each other.

    However, in my opinion, the biggest help to Korea was the law that was passed, this law stated  that any person who is showing symptoms and avoids testing or quarantine was going to be fined and possibly jailed (don’t quote me on those exact words, but that’s the gist of it). After they passed that law, cases shot up even more because people didn’t want to get in trouble, but also the Korean people knew what to do and handled their business.

    Also, to be honest, and I’ll probably get some hate for this, if not for the cults acting out of line, I don’t think Korea’s response to the virus would have been as good. Because the cult in Daegu caused a massive number of cases, and another cult (in Yongin, I believe) caused another large number, the government was able to crack down and do the work that needed to be done.

    The initial closing was for all businesses and schools, but in mid-March school closings were extended another two weeks.From what I've heard, they extended the out of school time just to be sure there wouldn't be a high risk of infection.


    So, to my friends back home, and anyone else who is reading this, heed my advice: please, for the love of whatever you believe in, stay home! Wash your hands! Don’t touch your face, don’t gather in large crowds, and, more importantly, sanitize whenever you go out or come in. This virus is very real, and unfortunately, the United States is in for a rough ride.

    Take care of yourselves.

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