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The real face of COVID-19 in South Korea

We’ve all seen the memes, repeated the same jokes, experienced similar thoughts and feelings… and together we can conclude 2020 has been one hell of a sh*tshow. From the potential start of WWIII, to the death of one of basketball’s greats, Kobe Bryant, 2020 has had it all. But nothing compares to that monstrous C word.

COVID-19 has, quite literally (and unfortunately), taken the world by storm, and yes, everyone is tired of listening to the multitude of rumours, the daily number of new infections, the promises of governments to ‘flatten the curve’ and get us back to our normal daily routines. The exhaustive list just goes on and on. But the way I see it, the British people (and those others in countries suffering massively from ‘rona) need to STOP listening to the daft, old governments and take things into their own hands.

Manchester (my hometown and one of the UK’s larger cities), has recently been plunged into the tier 3 lockdown procedure. For those unfamiliar with the UK’s (ridiculous) 3-tier plan, refer to https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/15/tier-1-2-or-3-englands-three-stage-covid-lockdown-rules-explained for more details or basically understand it as tier 1: medium risk, tier 2: high risk, tier 3: very high risk with each tier coming with its own limitations and restrictions.

Busan (my home away from home) has NEVER been placed into lockdown. Let me repeat that: Busan, the second largest city in South Korea, with a population of almost 3.5 million people, has not ONCE, since the first confirmed case back in January 2020 emerged, faced a barrage of (ridiculous – refer to the UK’s 3-tier plan) lockdown procedures.

Why is this, you may wonder…

Well for starters (and I don’t mean this offensively, I really don’t), Koreans can be quite the hypochondriacs. Indeed, when this virus first appeared on the Korean scene, I found myself influenced by their nature and was immediately wiping down my groceries with anti-bacterial wipes on my return home from the store. Necessary? Probably not. However, I deemed the slight possibility of droplets present on the surfaces of the items I purchased enough to act with caution.

This is only just the beginning.

Let’s take a look at what South Korea has done RIGHT thus far:

Masks

Quite the polarising subject, although I don’t fully understand why…

I have been wearing a mask, AROUND THE CLOCK, for the past ten months.

Is it a nuisance? Kind of, especially when running late and only just realising, after leaving the house, that I forgot my blasted mask.

Does it get in the way of my speech or breathing? No, it does not. It is a thin piece of cloth covering my nose and mouth.

Has it helped South Korea’s own personal battle with COVID-19? Undoubtedly. Just look at the figures for proof; SK currently stands at 25,424 cases TOTAL since January… the UK has clocked around 20,000 DAILY this past week.

Further proof to be found in the pudding… back in June, a Russian cargo ship docked in Busan and 16 of the 21 sailors on board tested positive for the virus. More than 170 people came into contact with the infected patients and were immediately placed into quarantine HOWEVER no positive test results came back after they underwent screening. Guess why… because they wore masks.

Simple as that.

Me and my mask 24/7

Temperature checks

The most telling symptom for COVID-19 is a fever.

Therefore it seems only sensible, and logical, to install thermal imaging systems, or at the very least a thermometer, to allow people to check their temperature upon arrival to a building, be it company offices, a restaurant or even the cinema.

My workplace installed their cameras back in May. A thermometer has sat by the front desk for longer still. Every person who enters the building is required to check their temperature, note it down on a form, and check to state they are happy to be contacted if necessary.

I visited a department store in my neighbourhood late last week where a security guard greeted me at the door and gently asked if he could take my temperature, to which I agreed, before directing me over to an area where hand sanitiser was provided.

No issue, no disagreement, no complaints. I throw away my right to ‘privacy’ each and every damn day and I couldn’t care less if my footsteps are tracked (they are always watching you on social media anyway!) because I am doing it for the good of others.

So, stuff your Donald Trump’s, your Minnie Mouse’s and use your real name and phone number. You don’t realise whose life you could save.

A thermal body camera implemented at my place of work. Hiiiii meeeee in the camera!

Emergency & Public Safety Alerts

Back in March, my phone was all abuzz with emergency alerts. I couldn’t go five minutes without my phone making its LOUD blaring noise alerting me with an update regarding to COVID-19. They dictate where infected patients have visited, specifying the time and date, as well as reminding the residents of and visitors to South Korea to constantly wear a mask, keep their distance socially and wash their hands.

Some people may argue it is a little too much, or too invasive, however it has had a remarkable impact on South Korea’s track and trace system.

Indeed, back in August, I went to a pizza restaurant in the Nampo neighbourhood of Busan. All was fine; I was seated upon a platform, away from the masses, enjoyed my meal, and didn’t think twice about ‘rona.

That was, until a few days later, I received an alert to say an infected person had dined at the same restaurant, on the same evening, albeit an hour before myself.

Well, I was all in a tizz. I panicked, wondering if I needed to be tested. If possibly, the air droplets containing the virus, could have been spread throughout the restaurant due to the air conditioning system being on full blast as we were still in the throes of summer.

After a solid one-hour breakdown, I spoke with my dining companion, who is Korean, who rationalised that if we were in any sort of danger or suspected to have the virus, the Korean government would have been in contact with us to tell us we needed to get tested. The government would have been able to locate us both as we both wrote our names and numbers on the form, as well as taking our temperature, upon arrival.

This is something governments around the world should immediately replicate. It is so useful and helps people determine whether they should get tested.

Just an example of the alerts I receive daily in South Korea… yes, I know they are in Korean but I can understand Korean and also there are translation apps

Two-week self-isolation

This one really isn’t that hard… if you have recently arrived from abroad, have come into contact with someone suspected or confirmed to have the virus OR suspect you, yourself have symptoms, then self-isolate. Watch some Netflix, read a book, do some DIY, but STAY AT HOME.

Now I know it will be boring and will, at some points, make you want to pull your hair out, but it is only for two weeks. That is nothing in the grand scheme of things.

I was meant to be travelling back to the UK for a friend’s wedding next month; initially, before COVID-19, I would have been able to stay for 4 weeks. This changed once South Korea stipulated arrivals to the country must self-isolate for 2 weeks to avoid potentially spreading the virus and I knew I would have to cut the trip to 2 weeks to accommodate that regulation and be back in time for work at the start of December.

One thing I must point out here is that South Korea did provide care packages for all people in self-isolation. They included food, drinks, hand sanitiser and antibacterial wipes. I’m not sure if they are still providing these but they were a hell of a lot better than the tosh the UK government provided which consisted of expired products and numerous unique ingredients.

Back to my case… self-isolating for two weeks was no problem in my eyes. I was ready and prepared to do this; I had accepted that it would just be part and parcel of my trip home however due to other circumstances, my trip has now been cancelled (☹).

Please, please, please stay at home if you think you must or have recently arrived from abroad. Get a lot of food in, ask your family or friends to deliver some groceries if necessary, just constantly dwell on the fact that you could help others by doing this.

In conclusion…

I’m not saying that different countries should copy each and everything that has been practiced in South Korea; I merely want to highlight the things I believe have made a difference and kept the figure down.

I also, obviously, know most people have been following the rules as necessary and I implore people to continue doing so. Don’t travel unless absolutely necessary, wear a mask at all times when outside and in public spaces, keep your distance socially, regularly check your temperature and self-isolate for at least TWO WEEKS (COVID-19’s incubation period can last this long).

You could really save a life or two.

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