- I visited Seoul, South Korea, for the first time as the country combats the coronavirus outbreak.
- There have been 19 confirmed coronavirus cases in South Korea as of Thursday, compared to 11 in the US.
- I was struck by the ubiquity of signs about preventing the spread of the virus in Seoul, as well as the dominance of surgical masks.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
SEOUL, South Korea – While travelling to South Korea over the past week, the first question I’ve gotten from most people who I’ve talked to back in the US is: “Are you worried about the coronavirus?”
My answer has been no, not really. There have been 19 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in South Korea as of Thursday, compared to 11 in the US. The majority of cases are people who have recently visited China or interacted closely with others who have.
Statistics aside, I have been struck by how clearly and visibly the coronavirus has transformed my trip.
According to friends back in the US, life there has pretty much continued without any serious acknowledgement of the outbreak. More people are wearing surgical masks, sending sales spiking. However, day-to-day, it sounds like the US is pretty much unchanged.
My experience has been completely different. While I haven’t been quarantined or dealt with any serious consequences of the outbreak, the South Korean government has made it essentially impossible to avoid the reality of the coronavirus and information on how to prevent its spread. That is a testament to the government’s readiness to deal with an outbreak – and has made me wonder how the US would react in a similar position.
Here is what it has been like travelling in South Korea as the country fights to stop the coronavirus from spreading.
Arriving at Seoul’s Incheon Airport, I was not sure what to expect.
South Korea has barred all non-Korean travellers coming from China’s Hubei province from entering the country, effective this Tuesday.
People arriving from China have to go to a quarantine area that was specifically set up for the country.
Source: Korea Times
While there was a quarantine area set up when I arrived last week, I did not have to undergo any extensive examination as a traveller arriving from the US. Instead, I was through customs and out of the airport in under 15 minutes.
The first evidence of how seriously Seoul was taking the coronavirus came in the form of endless signs about how to avoid getting sick.
Some signs were small.
Others were massive, like these long banners hung in various public spaces around the city.
I even got reminders while attempting to join public WiFi networks.
The subway was filled with signs, which explained that stations and trains were being regularly sanitised.
All the signs were basically instructing the same thing: wear a mask, wash your hands, and cover your mouth when you cough.
The endless instructions about masks stood out. Experts say that masks are not necessarily effective in preventing the spread of the virus. In the US, the CDC only recommends face masks for healthcare providers and people who might be infected.
Source: Business Insider
Meanwhile, South Korea’s CDC’s official take is that people should take steps to prevent spreading the coronavirus, “including hand washing, cough etiquette, and wearing mask if you have respiratory symptoms.”
Department stores and restaurants were requiring workers to wear masks on the job.
The Royal Guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace all had masks on.
These masks were so classy I had to double check if they were part of the standard uniform, but they appear to be a new addition.
Visitors — including people in traditional Korean hanboks — at Gyeongbokgung Palace also donned masks.
Wearing masks is more common in South Korea than in the US, both for people who are sick and want to avoid infecting others and for people dealing with air pollution. I came across various cute designs — like these fluffy fleece masks — while shopping in Seoul.
However, many South Koreans are currently searching for more medical-grade options. When I visited a Costco warehouse last week, surgical masks were swiftly selling out.
People hoarding masks or hand sanitizer can face a fine of up to $US42,108 and two years in prison.
Source: Business Insider