By now I’m sure you’ve already heard the news that MERS – Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome is very much in Korea. And if you haven’t heard the news I’ll summarize it here. This post is going to sound (and be) extremely negative because right now I think Korea is doing a terrible job with this. This post is mostly for our families:  if anyone in Korea has a problem with this negativity please keep it to yourself. 

The Background:

So one guy went to 4 countries, other news sources say just Qatar. He picked up MERS and brought it back to Korea. 7 days after he returned he showed symptoms and went to four FOUR hospitals before he was diagnosed/taken seriously. By now his wife is already showing symptoms. These are now the first two infected people in Korea. He shared a hospital room (of course he did) so the 3rd infected person was his room mate. Finally isolation begins for the 64 some-odd people who came in contact with him as he bounced from hospital to hospital.

Patient number 3 (the room mate)’s daughter was required to go into isolation but refused because she’s a selfish bitch (see more about entitlement here).  She got her little brother sick. He went to the hospital with a fever, didn’t admit to having any contact with MERS. He went back to the hospital later when he had a high enough fever and they figured out it was MERS.  But because he’s a selfish little stain on the earth he decided to travel to freaking Hong Kong and then to China.  Which he did, it pissed off China and now he’s finally in isolation.

However we know of two Koreans who were on the same plane as this man who have also refused isolation and are unreachable. A new article came out today about a woman who was supposed to be in isolation but decided to go golfing.

In short: everyone is a selfish ass and they’re starting to get a lot of people.

So now we  here we stand. Everyone is too selfish to do what is right for their extremely densely populated country.

Korea is a good place for this to spread:

I really don’t want to scare anyone but some of the habits practiced here make it a good place for this to spread.

1) they don’t really practice basic hygiene. Most people who I’ve seen/heard in the bathroom leave without washing their hands. I told a class they should cough into their arms and not just cough open mouthed – they had never heard of this. Yes, people are doing it now.

2) It’s common to spit or hawk phlegm instead of blowing your nose. A couple times I’ve seen spit indoors from this.

3) People don’t seem to understand cross contamination. An example is street food – something I never cared about but is a good example of not seeing a cause and effect: A person will wear big pink cleaning gloves, she will dip a plate in soapy water (it’s clean now I guess) accept money and then use the same soapy/money-y gloves to mix noodles and sauce by hand. Oh man. Do you know how dirty money is?

4) No one is scared s***less from AIDS. AIDs basically bypassed Korea. So while I grew up being taught to never touch anyone’s blood, bandages,etc… Every Korean I’ve seen bleeding will have a friend or teacher wipe the blood away by with a bare hand. It’s not a big deal here. I think the prerequisite being scared-s***less from AIDS makes countries take things more seriously for longer. Korea has had plenty of scares with SARS and Swine and Bird Flu but from what I understand, any precautions taken then have mostly gone away because we must be safe now. Hygiene isn’t practiced unless there is a current threat.

Enough of that, though. What do we know, what do we think, what’s going on?

Basically we don’t know. There aren’t many news stories about this in English. When we translate the news we get a whole bunch of weirdness. It’s all rumors online and rumors in person.

What is the country doing about it?

Putting people in “isolation” and then those people are just doing what they want.

Researching if Koreans are more susceptible to it, apparently.

They put together a “task force”

They put a map up that said where infected people were then immediately took it down because it removed people’s privacy or something.

What are people doing about it?

Talking about it. A lot.

Wearing masks (that are designed to filter out pollen). Buying masks. Talking about masks. Making posters about masks. It’s a good time to be in the mask business.

They’re finally washing their hands more than I’ve ever seen.

What are schools doing about it?

Schools in the immediate areas in Seoul/outside of Seoul have closed. 450+ schools have closed, around 2,500 field trips have been cancelled. However they’re only closing for one or two days – to really be effective they would need to close for a week or more. So far only one elementary school has done this.

Mock entrance exams (see the Suneung) are scheduled for Thursday night and students will continue to go.

Online I’ve heard elementary schools are smearing vaseline on students noses because the MERS bits will get stuck to the vaseline thus protecting the child.

My school has always had bar soap but I’ve heard some are introducing liquid soap. So far mine hasn’t.

Schools and public areas continue to not have any hot water so is washing our hands doing all that much?

Schools are encouraging students to wear masks.

What are your schools doing about it?

Nothing. We’re on standby – if more than X students don’t come then we will shut down the school. It’s like a reverse quarantine.

If school shuts down we’ll still be required to come and desk warm (which we won’t do. I’m drawing my limit there).

The debate contest is scheduled for Monday – this will be a really great chance for students from all areas of Daejeon to come together in the same room. No one would dream of canceling this even if one of the schools had an infected student.

What are you doing about it?

Washing our hands as much as we always have.

I have speaking tests for the next two weeks which will involve me talking personally to about 400 students. There’s nothing I can do about it.

We don’t know who’s infected or where but if things start getting really serious we’ll consider staying home from school for a few weeks or leaving the country. This is a dead-end job, we’ll either be kicked out in February or we’ll leave on our own after the third year.  I would never risk my health for this. Everyone’s acting a little stupid about it: well the flu spreads more and you have a better chance of dying from the flu/car accidents/etc. Yes, well this has a 37% fatality rate and no cure. My confidence in Korea is at an all time low. The second things get uncomfortable: we’re out. And if it all ended up blowing over then whatever, it’s better to be paranoid and healthy than to just roll with the punches and get sick. I do NOT want to get sick here.

Where is it/is it spreading?

It’s mostly around Seoul but some people have said some cases are in Asan which is about an hour away from us. This morning someone else said it’s in Jeollanambukdo which is the southernmost province beneath us.

According to the rumors there are 3-6 cases in Daejeon – Daejeon is a big place so who knows where these cases are. Someone said there is 1 confirmed case in Sintanjin which is very close to us. Other people said 2 possibly infected people were shopping in Lotte Mart yesterday (we were too). Lotte Mart is right next to my school so everyone’s panicking about that now.  Rumors rumors everywhere. We have no idea what’s the truth and what is hopeless fear-mongering.



3 thoughts on “MERS”

  1. I am currently deskwarming today and Monday as my school has closed for the kids but teachers still have to come in or use vacation days. Since I only have 8 days in the summer I said no thanks although I’m really pissed about it. In Daejeon it started at chungnam uni hospital near us and all schools with a parent who is a doctor or nurse has closed it seems.

    1. We’re too north to take any real precautions apparently. I’m going to be so pissed if they close it and I have to deskwarm. You’re still touching everything in the dirty school. You’re still exposed to other teachers… At least they postponed the middle school debate. Someone, somewhere finally made a tiny effort for public health.

      1. Well now we’ve found out that chungnam uni hopsital isn’t on the mers list the gov released. This is the problem with panic in this country, it’s all hearsay until the gov tells the people anything. Our kids are back tomorrow apparently which makes no sense if the incubation period is a week or so….

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