MERS, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome was first seen back in 2012 in, you guessed it, the Middle East, Specifically Saudi Arabia where has since claimed 400 lives. Last week a Korean man was diagnosed with MERS but decided to continue on his trip to Hong Kong and then onto China, despite doctors recommendations that he stay and rest.
Seoul Officials though nothing of it at first , then, as the number of people who had contracted or who are suspected to have contracted it grew, the government acknowledged that it might be a problem but still hesitated to take actions, then two people died and the government began to think about what to do. Action has been slow coming, unlike during the time of the SARS outbreak where the government put up screenings at ports of entry early-on.
Now in Seoul about 800 (I have read in some places as high as 1600) people have been quarantined including people on one of Korea’s military bases. Each morning I get an update from one of my coworkers about the new total number of infected people despite telling them I don’t care to know because it only heightens my level of anxiety and does nothing to limit my exposure. I just try to remember all the other viruses I managed to outlive: West Nile, H1N1, Swine flu, Ebola and that one time one of my students in Spain got a severe case of Meningitis that landed her in the hospital for a month and caused such a panic that the Spanish CDC was called in and students and teachers were all vaccinated.
Korea has a culture of work,work,work and never take a day off for rest, not even when you are ill. I have said since arriving that this was a terrible practice that spreads germs. Multiply that by the fact that there are 10 million people packed into Seoul, 17.250 people per square Kilometer. All of whom are using the bus and metro and the little thing you swipe with your finger to confirm a transaction at a store or cafe, dialing buttons on ATM machines and hacking everywhere. most Korean’s have yet to adopt the idea of covering your mouth when you cough so I don’t have much hope of convincing them they should actually cough into their elbow.
What I was getting at about school and work is that now, finally after an outbreak of a disease that has never been seen in Korea, they finally say hey, why don’t you guys take a few days to hopefully not catch this thing. So far around 700 schools have been closed under Emergency direction, mine was not one of them. However we see some action taken. I noticed today that the bathroom was extra clean and we got a new bar of soap after months, yes a BAR of soap in a public restroom and yes it did last MONTHS in a school with hundreds of children.
Many bathrooms do have soap, usually a bar of soap on a stick or one resting in a puddle of water. It never amazes me though, even when bathrooms are equipped I see Koreans walk out of public bathrooms having not washed their hands. And in many bathrooms there simply isn’t soap which makes me wonder, how are the kitchen staff washing their hands and two where are the health officials?
(To be fair many people around the world don’t wash their hands. But it doesn’t make it any less justifiable).
Now here is where Korea shows its true colors. A recent article in The Korea Observer talks about how the government has put together a task force to help keep its image clean. They are worried that the virus may scare away tourist and diminish the nations credit score. (Original Article)
Wash your hands please and if you have to cough do it into your elbow because I have to work and my vice principle wont be happy if i ask for a day off because I have MERS.