COVID19 update as of March 10, 2020.
Today marks 6 full years in our company. Thank you for the support and encouragement everyone. Still planning to do a separate post about what it is like in the corporate world in South Korea, hopefully this year.
People were asking about the current situation in South Korea, so I wanted to drop a short update.
This is the city where the Shincheonji source of COVID19 outbreak started. People have told me that this city is like a ghost town. Our company is prohibiting any business trips to Daegu. We are taking other precaution measures if we have to work or meet with companies from that region.
I saw a funny meme-tweet this morning, it said: “To the people who have bought 27 bottles of soap leaving none on the shop shelves for others, you do realize that to stop getting coronavirus (COVID19), you need other people to wash their hands too, you great thundering walloper.”
I found this to be hilarious. And it is true. People around the world are hogging their own supplies for themselves or family. What are you going to do with a kazillion masks on your own? In other countries, *cough* USA *cough*, people are stocking up on tissue paper. *insert inverted smiley*
The South Korean government announced late last week that they are going to implement a system to regulate the supplies. People can buy masks from the post office once a day per person. Or 2 masks on a designated day at the pharmacy depending on the last digit of their year of birth. Here is a list to explain:
Monday: last digit 1, 6 (ex. 2001, 1986)
Tuesday: last digit 2, 7 (ex. 1972, 1997)
Wednesday: last digit 3, 8 (ex. 2003, 1998)
Thursday: last digit 4, 9 (ex. 1994, 1909)
Friday: last digit 5, 0 (ex. 2015, 1800)
That is how the government is battling COVID19 mask hoarding right now. They have asked citizens to wear washable masks if they do not have disposable masks.
There are plenty of hand-sanitizers in public places (bus, restaurants, cafe’s, subway stations, etc.) that I did not feel a need to buy one. It would be nice to have one to carry around though.
To, from and at work
Everyone outside Korea have been asking if life here is ‘normal’. Friends, I can’t say that it is ‘normal’. Ever since COVID19, it was a combination of everyone’s regular routines + safety measures. My 2-week ‘safety quarantine’ ended and I was required to work in our office starting this week. I rode a cab to work and took the bus home after rush hour yesterday so it wasn’t particularly unpleasant or worrisome.
The bus was full as always this morning. But every single person was wearing masks. An employee is waiting at our floor before we go in to the actual office to take our temperature. There are hand-sanitizer bottles beside the employee and even after we go into the office. We are REQUIRED to wear masks at all times. The only time of the whole 24 hours I don’t wear a mask on a normal weekday would be when I am eating, drinking water or if I am at home. My close co-worker didn’t wear a mask yesterday because she forgot one and was told to buy a mask immediately.
We are required to report our place of destination if a brave soul plans to travel outside the country. And other rules are being implemented. Too many to tell.
Graduation in Korea is on early February and unfortunately, that was also when COVID19 cases started to increase. So among cancelled events, graduation ceremonies became one of them. Students were still allowed to meet with their friends to take a few pictures on school grounds.
Classes have been suspended for 2 weeks. This is an order from the Ministry of Education, “encouraging” universities to postpone start of the school year/semester for 2 weeks. However, the outbreak has not calmed down to the point of safety where students can return so they have transitioned to online classes. All universities are going to hold classes online (in a week, I believe) and they have started to brief the professors.
International schools have already started the online classes. Kindergartens and day cares are closed for the meantime as well. This is difficult for households with no stay-at-home parent. The ‘work from home’ system is not widely implemented in the traditional corporate world in Korea yet. So day cares have given limited opportunities to working parents who have no one to take care of their child. Still, parents are very much afraid that their child might get COVID19 at school.
An interesting theory I heard…
…that once summer kicks in in this part of the world and winter busts in the southern part of the world, COVID19 will move towards that area. And once winter shifts, it will come back again. So we have to wear masks for the rest of our lives unless there is a vaccine developed ASAP.
On a side note…
South Korea is burning cash, literally. But people generally don’t carry cash around here, so…
Colleagues say, “Who carries around cash these days anyway?”
some people think this will be over by April. I believe it will blow over by mid or end of June. But no matter what the circumstances, COVID19 is still a virus you can recover from. More deadly and painful than the flu, yes, but the fatality rate is low. Make sure the elderly are more cautious than those that are younger. The death rate of ages 49 and below is less than 1% and those at 80+ years old have a death rate of 14.8% (source: Coronavirus Worldometer demographics).
Many of my friends have been asking how I am doing and are very curious about COVID-19 (coronavirus) situation here. Usually I avoid posting about current issues. Last time I did was 4 years ago. But I needed to update this blog anyway, plus it’s easier to relay information all at once. Please take this blog post as, a personal update for my friends, all of you and a little background on what is happening on the ground.
And decided it’d be cool to post it on a leap-year. 😉
A little background on my current situation.
If you do not follow my Instagram account (which you should), I was away on a trip to Laos and Myanmar. Both countries have no known COVID19 cases. I was told to work from home for 2 weeks when I came back. This is an improvement, actually. Initially, our company wanted me to use 3-5 days of my personal leaves to quarantine myself. I am happy working from home. Despite the necessary adjustments and challenges, I am enjoying not having to choose what to wear, put make-up on and get on the public transportation.
Other small and medium-sized companies have asked their employees to work from home. Can’t necessary blame them, there has been more than 3,000 confirmed cases as I am typing this entry. Office buildings, shopping malls and even grocery stores, most establishments that have had confirmed case patients loiter about their premise have shut down for a few days to disinfect their whole area.
The very common tourist shopping mall in Myeongdong, Lotte Department Store that has a Duty Free on its top floor attracts many Chinese tourists. That mall closed down for 3 days to disinfect. The grocery store in front of my house, where so many people in my neighborhood go to was also shut down for a while because a confirmed COVID-19 case patient loitered around for 2 hours.
You get the idea.
Masks and hand sanitizers can be found invevery establishment. Even in a Ta-Da (타다, an Uber-like taxi service) vehicle were hand sanitizers. But these supplies, affordable ones are sold out within 1-2 hours when sold online. Even thermometers are low on stocks. An $80 thermometer now costs almost $200. Everyone wears masks whenever they go out.I had to buy a red-colored mask because it was the last mask available in the convenience store.
There are preventive instructions and symptoms of COVID19 everywhere you turn. Friends say buses and subways are more quiet or empty, but some have also shared that it is still as crowded in malls. It is still winter after all and people prefer to stay indoors. Many people don’t like being cooped up in four corners for a long time. Even myself, like going on walks to stretch my legs a bit.
My father is in the hospital right now and it is quite difficult to see him. They have restricted the entry points to the building, allowing only 1 guardian to stay by the patient’s side. My mother had to come down, give me the visitor’s pass. To enter the hospital, I fill out a form with my name on it and confirming that I have no symptoms of any kind of the virus, etc. Then I can go up to see my dad. It’s no easy though. My brother was denied entry when it was his turn.
The government has set up a hotline “1339” to call if a person is experiencing symptoms of COVID19. It is to consult with someone whether they need to go to the hospital or not. This is to prevent having too many people in hospitals. Everyone is saying that going to the hospital might actually be worse because there are so many patients. It is worse in some hospitals. I received an alert message a few days ago asking people that if they have visited a certain hospital, they need to get checked for symptoms or report it.
Mega-churches have cancelled their services due to COVID19 altogether and decided to stream online. Both Korean and English ministries. Only staff and pastors would go to church to set-up and broadcast the sermon, but all attendees stay at home. Different airline companies have cancelled flights or asked passengers to change their schedule or reroute to a different country. Country that is not Korea or China.
Fear and panic.
With all these protocols set – it doesn’t ease the fear and panic. Our company isn’t the type of company to easily ask people to work from home. Koreans never close mall or grocery operations down. The people here are workaholics. Various places and people taking these measures state how serious of a situation this is. And as fearful as I have been, and still am – I stand my ground.
Churches that are still holding services are being ridiculed and the government is telling churches to cancel services and any meetings or fellowship gatherings altogether. Why? Well, thanks to the cult (sarcasm). About 2 to 3 weeks ago, a cult named, Shincheonji had a suspected COVID19 civilian in Daegu city. She showed symptoms and was advised to quarantine herself, but then she attended church. And everything went spiraling down from there. In a week, the count of COVID19 cases skyrocketed from 23 people to 422. Then now more than 3,000.
People are blaming the cult for the increase of COVID19 cases in Korea. They say they have 250,000 members. Others believe there are more. They are also accused of telling their members to go around attending services in other churches since theirs was shut down. Attending other services is to show that they are not the cause of this sudden outspread. I am honestly to the core of my bones, not a fan of this cult group. They are annoying and their belief is insulting. But the blame game doesn’t stop there.
Never ending blame game.
Before this Shincheonji madness, everyone was blaming China for COVID19. Racism. A virus is not a valid excuse for someone to be racist. Not a fan of Chinese people? Fine. But is it right to go around, cursing or shouting at them, making snarky comments and worse yet, resort to violence? People were acting as if the virus was already in the blood of Chinese, laying dormant and awakened now.
Then it moved on to people blaming the government why they continued to allow Chinese people in the country. Complaining to the government why they only banned arrivals from the Hubei province and not all of China. Citizens are saying that the government is not imposing a ban due to inter-relational political issues. In April, President Xi Jinping is due to visit Korea, is this the reason why?
So many speculations. Some might be true and others false.
Now, everyone is just tired. Tired of wearing masks, being paranoid, not being able to meet people and roam freely, have restrictions and really, tired of hearing the same news over and over again. Everywhere you turn, the news and conversations, it is merely about COVID19 and how this or how they think the situation escalated.
Honestly, we will never know and I remain very skeptical about all this. I have not read any news or a testimony from a recovered patient. None. (Please send me a link if you have ready any.) What was the experience like? Do people collapse on the street? Or is it a painful experience? How did patients recover? How are the tests being done? Could be that all the answers are in Google’s database, but still have not heard about any of these matters.
The world does not evolve around COVID19. It should never be.
There is other news though. A vaccine is found. Great! You can get the virus again even after you’ve recovered. Terrible. The topic of COVID19 has taken over the media that other important issues aren’t discussed anymore. There have been earthquakes in different parts of the world. A dispute is happening in India. Another shooting in the US.
So, how am I doing? I have one week left of “work from home” before I can go back to the office again. Even then, we have to wear masks at work, check our temperature twice a day and work from home on some days. I wear masks whenever I must go out. Wash my hands as frequently as possible. Avoiding crowded places and taking my vitamins, drinking lots of water and (trying to) sleep better. That’s the best I can do, can’t I? I really don’t want to live in fear, it is wearing me out. At least I did my best trying not to get infected. And I hope that my family will be safe in the midst of all this. But really… a few weeks ago when the tension was high, this Bible verse comforted me and I hope it does the same for you too.
1He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
5 You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
8 You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.
9 Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
the Most High, who is my refuge—
10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”
Keep healthy and keep walking.