f you are planning a trip to Korea, you might have spent a reasonable amount of time learning about the coronavirus. COVID-19 is spreading fast. Like it or not, it might affect your travel plans. The best you can do before starting to panic or cancel your bookings is to inform yourself.
The thoughts below are my personal observations on the situation in South Korea. You have to make up your mind and have an informed decision on how safe it would be to travel to South Korea.
The first coronavirus case reported in South Korea is on January 20, 2020. The patient was a 35-year-old Chinese woman. She arrived at the Incheon international airport. During routine thermal scanning, she showed fever symptoms.
As of February 24, there are 843 confirmed cases of Covid-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Most of the cases in South Korea are in Daegu and Gyeongbuk province, some 250 km south-east from Seoul.
South Korea is doing everything a free society can afford to do in the case of an infection outbreak. Korea is a democracy, so there are boundaries in restricting personal and group rights. Central and local governments are stepping up their efforts to fight the spread of the virus. Korean civil society is very developed and active as well.
The spread of the coronavirus in South Korea has accelerated the last couple of days (as of February 23).
The biggest outbreak of the coronavirus is in Daegu and Cheongdo, 30 km south of Daegu. The spike with infected people is connected with Shincheonji Church, a controversial Christian cult. Shincheonji has about 140,000 members, and they believe illness is a sin as it prevents you from doing the work of God. During the church services, members sit on the floor, very close to each other. They are not allowed to wear anything on their head, glasses, and masks, including. Membership into the religious group is secret. Members of the cult infiltrate other churches. There are lots of reported cases they look to discredit the leadership of the infiltrated church. The goal is to convert into the cult the disappointed and confused churchgoers.
The 31st reported case of Covid-19 is most likely a super-spreader, responsible for hundreds of infected. The 61-years old member of Shincheonji was hospitalized two times in February and refused to be tested for coronavirus. Then she escaped from the hospital and attended two church services in the Shincheonji Church of Jesus. Out of 1000 attending that services, around 500 have coronavirus symptoms. The authorities managed to contact 9,300 of the church members. But 700 that might have contact with infected church members are unreachable. Around 600 Daegu police officers are in search of these unaccounted church members.
After considering how long this post might become, I decided to create another post with my daily COVID19 updates from South Korea. If you are interested to follow how fight with the coronavirus have developed in Korea, check it out!
Monday, February 24
It’s getting super intense in South Korea. 843 cases have been confirmed. Over 1,300,000 masks were made available to the citizens of Daegu. Families with financial problems can get the masks free of charge. Local government official responsible for the virus outbreak was tested positive. Later on it was made clear he is a Shincheonji cult member. Hospitals in Daegu are running out of beds so patients in critical conditions will be transported to Incheon, 50 km south-east of Seoul. Multiple countries ban travelers from South Korea (Israel, Brunei, etc.)
Sunday, February 23
The big spike in the cases registered in Daegu and Cheongdo. A large number of sect followers attended the funeral of the founder’s brother from January 31 to February 2. Volunteers from Shincheonji visited patients in Cheongdo University Hospital. This is how the virus might be spread in the hospital affecting over 100 of its patients.
Out of all infected with the coronavirus as of February 23, 329 cases (54,7%) come from Shincheonji.
``Masks and Sanitizer at Public Bus``
It’s still safe to travel to South Korea. If you are in good health and have no pre-existing conditions or immune system problems, it’s OK to come to Korea. The Korean Government is taking the outbreak with extreme care. There are daily briefings with lots of information shared with the public. South Korea is more prepared than any other nation to face the challenge. Why?
Korean Government is transparent and well prepared to face the crisis. Decisions taking process is swift and on the point. The Government is making informed decisions following the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO). Transparency is super important when evaluating the risk of infection spread. We all have our own thoughts on how real data is coming from China.
After the SARS and MERS outbreaks, the Government designated facilities for infection outbreak. There are quarantine facilities nationwide. Hospitals across the country have patient isolation rooms with negative pressure.
Rapid diagnostic tests for coronavirus are available nationwide at major health institutions. The test can detect coronavirus in six hours. The test is available now, not only to people who have traveled to China recently.
Recent changes in regulations give the Korean Government the ability to track infected citizens. It can access mobile phone GPS data, credit card records, CCTV, and public transport cards. The tracked routes of all confirmed cases are public but anonymized. Public spaces exposed to the virus are being closed for disinfection for 2-3 days.
Government is using all possible channels to raise awareness about virus prevention. Huge banners are hanging out from public buildings, in public transport, everywhere.
Government patient monitoring system allowing it to collect data and track all affected. This system has been instrumental in monitoring and discovering new cases.
Designated app for case monitoring. People with contacts to infected people use a mobile app to report their condition twice a day. If not reporting, a government official will call and collect the information. If not answering the call, officials will.
Korean society is very active in supporting the effort to prevent the outbreak. Information spreads brazing fast. There are sites run by citizens where you can get the latest news on the virus outbreak. Koreans like tables and graphs, so the current information is well systemized.
What measures is Korea taking to prevent the spread of the virus?
There’s so much taking place to prevent the virus spread. Here are some of the measures in place in South Korea.
Awareness of personal hygiene – washing hands very often, facial masks in public places. People are acting on it, and almost everybody wears a mask.
Most public buses in Seoul have free masks and sanitizer. Sanitizer is available in most public and office buildings.
``Corona Virus Prevention Materials by Korean Government``
Trains, metro, and buses are being sanitized daily to prevent the virus from spreading.
Restricting public protests that are a daily fixture at Gwangamun Square. Huge fines imposed on individuals and organizations not following the ban.
All kindergartens request kids to wear masks and are checking kids’ temperature.
If somebody has symptoms, they have to call 120, 1339 for instruction where to go for a check-up. There’s a public list of centers close to you to the virus test (over 560 so far). People are advised not to go to an emergency center but consult over the phone.
Local governments are providing free masks at tourist attractions. Poor people can also get free protection masks at community centers.
If you approach an area with a high risk of infection, you will get an mobile emergency alert with detailed information.
Government is using data analysis to monitor potential patients. Since February 12, all foreign visitors are to report their condition via the Self Health Check app. They are required to check in once a day for two weeks. If somebody fails to do so in two days upon arrival will receive a direct call from health authorities.
How to self-quarantine
``Family Self-quarantine Guidelines``
Is Traveling from or to South Korea Restricted?
Several countries have restrictions related to travelers from South Korea. Some states have imposed restrictions on people who have visited Korea before.
I hope the information above will give you a clear idea of how prepared Korea is and what to expect when you arrive. Here’s what the WHO has to say to questions related to travel:
There are several simple things you have to do to reduce the chances of getting infected by corona virus:
Wash your hands frequently
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if your hands are not visibly dirty.
Cover mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing
When coughing and sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue. Discard tissue immediately into a bin.
Maintain social distancing
Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance between yourself and other people.
Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth
If you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with your contaminated hands, you may transfer the virus.
Seek medical care if you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing
Even if you don’t have all the symptoms, it’s better to consult a doctor.
Refrain from visiting live animal markets, wet markets or animal product markets
Avoid contact with contaminated animal waste or fluids.
Avoid the consumption of raw or undercooked animal products.
Uncooked foods can be contaminated and can be a significant risk to your health.
Corona Virus or COVID-19 is a severe acute respiratory syndrome first discovered in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. It’s also referred to as 2019-nCoV, Wuhan Coronavirus, or ‘Coronavirus.’ There are 7 coronaviruses known so far, and the common cold is one of them. Three of the coronaviruses are very dangerous – SARS, MERS, and the current one SARS-Cov-2, previously named 2019-nCoV. The virus spreads throughout the respiratory system. It causes lung infection resulting in pneumonia.
What makes the new coronavirus so dangerous is not how deadly it is, but how fast it spreads. By February 20, more people died from COVID-19 than SARS. The mortality rate so far is unknown, but the official statistics that come from China show 2-3%. That’s way better than SARS, who had a 10% mortality rate.
The bad news about CoronaVirus is that it can spread from person to person. There is evidence now people in the incubation period can actually spread the virus. What makes it even more problematic is people might have no symptoms and still carry the virus and spread it.
- Shortness of breath
The symptoms of COVID-19 may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure.