I’m no expert on this subject so I won’t even go into detail on the scientific side of things. I’ve linked two videos, one speaking about the scientific detail and then one giving you updates on the worldview of the virus. This post is simply answering all the questions I’ve been getting on Instagram about what it’s been like living in South Korea during this time.
How did you first hear about the virus coming to South Korea?
There’s an English publication called ‘The Korea Times’ and they have been reporting on it since the beginning. They update their Facebook page regularly and it’s been my go-to. At first, we didn’t feel anything when the initial cases came through. Some of the kids didn’t attend school but we remained open. It wasn’t until Daegu that things really escalated.
How many coronavirus cases are there currently in Korea? / How many deaths?
There are currently (writing this on March 9th at 11:30 am) 7 382 confirmed cases and 51 deaths.
Have you been tested?
Informally, yes. When going into the hospital and such, they test your temperature. This part really scares me because I’ve always had a slighter higher body temperature. If your body temperature is higher than average, you are then taken in for proper testing. This can often be ineffective because hidden symptoms exist. I guess they’re going on faith that we adults won’t be stupid and disclose if we are currently experiencing other symptoms.
Are you currently working or is your school close?
The government or more specifically, the Ministry of Education (MOE) here in Korea pushed back the start date on all government schools. They will only open on the 23rd of March (as it stands now – this could be further delayed) instead of the usual school year starting March 2nd.
Does this affect private schools?
Yes, absolutely. Since they are privately owned, the government can only ‘strongly advise’ the private schools to close. My school is private but decided to comply with the government’s wishes so it has closed its doors until the 23rd of March. I am not working at all – some private schools have allowed classes to be taught online and maintained working hours.
Are you still getting paid even if you’re not working?
I am getting paid 70% of my salary. If I were in South Africa, I would be under tremendous stress to make ends meet if my salary was cut by 30% but in South Korea, we have a massive disposable income bracket so I’m more than comfortable. Most have savings that they can fall back on as well. This is not the case for others, some institutes are forcing vacation days to be used as well as National Holidays. If you know anything about Korean working hours/holidays – this is horrific because we get limited time off as it is. If it’s a forced shut down by the government, schools are not forced to pay staff members.
How do you know what is going on?
Korea has a pretty smart system where they send out emergency alerts. In the past, it’s mainly been used to notify us of bad air quality, extreme weather conditions or places to avoid within the city in regards to protests. They now send us a number of these alerts per day that (if your phone is on loud) sends out a huge noise.
What does ‘self-quarantine’ mean?
Self-quarantine or ‘home quarantine’ basically means you need to stay indoors as much as possible. You are advised not to go out in large public spaces or use public transportation. I really struggle with this because I don’t like staying in one place for too long. However, I don’t want to contribute to the problem at hand and going places right now for the sake of selfishness is kinda an asshole move.
Do you feel scared?
About the actual virus? No. Korea currently has a 0.6% death rate, which is insanely low. The medical facilities here are fantastic and all testing or hospital stays in regards to the virus are FREE. Yes, that’s not a typo – it’s completely free. People that are suspected of having the virus and are being helped at the temporary facilities that have been set up have zero complaints. So, in regards to my safety, I feel like I’m in the best possible location. My fear is what will happen if this persists for months and schools remain closed. My job is tied to my visa and if that stops, where do I go? Korea has so many cases that we’ve been banned from multiple countries. I also don’t want to return home while the virus is ongoing because my country is not as efficient as Korea. We will tackle that hurdle when it comes, but that doesn’t mean it’s not causing me a level of anxiety right now.
How has life changed there?
The streets are emptier and everyone wears a mask. There is literally hand sanitizer on every street corner and people sometimes insist on you using it before entering a store. The popular areas are quiet and that makes for a depressing atmosphere. Seoul is a very vibrant city and seeing it muted is a little heartbreaking. You also just don’t see an end to it because the cases are increasing daily and the world is seeing more cases as well.
Do you know anyone that has the coronavirus?
Nope. There are just over 51 million people in Korea and as I said earlier, 7 382 people have caught the virus.
What are you doing with your time?
I’m enrolled in a full-time postgraduate so this has been a blessing in terms of actually being a student for once. I’m usually juggling full-time work and it’s exhausting. However, I’d take full-time work and full-time study over this situation any day. It’s caused panic and much upheaval in the world.
Those are just the questions I could find – you can shoot me some more on Instagram.