With more than 5,000 identified cases of the COVID-19 virus, South Korea has the second-largest number of infections in the world. In an attempt to stop the epidemic from spreading, the government has launched an aggressive testing campaign – around 110,000 people have been screened so far, according to the website Worldometer. The government is also providing support and assistance to those in quarantine. Our team spoke to two South Korean residents about the country’s fight against coronavirus.
Joseph Kim is an American citizen of Korean origin who works in the capital, Seoul, and lives in the city's eastern district, Gangdong. Last week, he ran into an acquaintance in the hallway at work. That friend was later diagnosed with coronavirus. Kim was contacted by the authorities and was tested for the virus. The result was negative, but doctors still asked him to undergo quarantine for two weeks, which is thought to be the incubation period for the virus.
The local district council identified all of the people who had had contact with my acquaintance and had them tested. They also identified all of the places where he had been. They shut down some of those places and sterilised everything. The council calls me twice a day. They ask me to take my temperature and to pay close attention to any symptoms.
I find the way that the epidemic is managed very reassuring. I’d rather see lots of people tested so that all of the cases are identified and can access treatment, as opposed to letting people go untested.
On February 28, Kim took to Reddit to share photos of the box that he had received that day from the dictrict's public health officials. The box contained food, water, masks, toothbrushes, a thermometer, hand-sanitising gel, a bag for dirty tissues and even a guide for how to self-quarantine with instructions for accessing emergency funds from the government. This financial aid is provided to people in quarantine who can’t work. In total, the box is supposed to contain everything you need to live in quarantine in your home for two weeks.
A photo posted on Reddit February 26 by Joseph Kim, an American living in Seoul. The photo shows the contents of a kit supplied by local authorities to help him get through quarantine for the COVID-19 virus.
The box also contained a message from the centre for public health in the Gangdong neighbourhood thanking Kim. "Thank you for your cooperation in helping avoid the spread of coronavirus. Here are some supplies to help you during your quarantine. Please make sure to practice good hygiene (wash your hands with soap for at least 30 seconds and wear a mask).”
Kim’s acquaintance who was diagnosed with Covid-19 is now on the mend.
In an attempt to combat the spread of the virus, South Korea has launched a testing campaign all around the country. Shops, gyms and other facilities where infected people have gone have all been shut down and disinfected. The army has even helped with the campaign.
This video shows streets being disinfected. It was posted on Twitter on March 3.
These videos show a gym being disinfected in Incheon, a town located in northwest South Korea. (The videos were posted on Twitter on February 26).
In an attempt to limit the spread of the virus, the government has increased the number of testing campaigns. President Moon Jae-in declared on March 3 that his country was going “to war” against COVID-19. The government even set up drive-through testing sites where Koreans can be tested while sitting behind the wheel.
'At some stores, bars and restaurants, people are actually verifying passports to make sure that you haven’t come from China'
The centre of South Korea’s epidemic is in the town of Daegu, located 300 kilometres southeast of Seoul. Alice is originally from France and is a student at Daegu University. She went on vacation to Seoul and decided to prolong her stay in the capital to avoid confinement back in Daegu.
There are posters all over and messages are broadcast in the metro reminding us about maintaining hygiene. At some stores, bars and restaurants, people are actually verifying passports to make sure that you haven’t come from China. They take our temperatures and disinfect our hands. It’s really strange at first but ultimately reassuring.
We are all wearing masks (in winter, many people do anyway). There are fewer people in the streets but life continues as normal in many ways. Supermarkets are still always full and the neighbourhoods where young people tend to go out remain vibrant. It’s a bit quieter in the week, but at the weekend, it’s easy to forget that we are in the midst of an epidemic.
At this mall in Seoul, customers have to wash their hands before taking the escalator.
At this museum entrance, visitors must wash their hands. Some places have also set up machines to measure people’s temperatures.
Alice also gets daily texts from the Seoul city government.
"To prevent the spread of the virus, please avoid these places,” reads the message sent on March 1 to our Observer in quarantine in Seoul. Sent by city authorities, it contains a list of places to avoid in the city.
"No new cases today. If you have symptoms like fever, coughing or difficulty breathing, contact a health centre. Please be careful to avoid gatherings and respect the rules of hygiene (wash your hands, wear a mask),” says a message from March 2.
President Moon Jae-in apologised on March 3 for a shortage of masks across the country, but both Alice and Kim think that the epidemic is being well-managed in South Korea.
Our Observer Alice shares updates on the situation on Twitter. "Korea has the means to test 10,000 people per day, that’s huge!"
<span style="font-size:small;">This article was written by Marie Genries</span>