Landisa: I’m rather staying in quarantine in South Korea, than burdening SA’s healthcare system

2020-03-23 22:52
Inge Odendaal.

Inge Odendaal.

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I have been living in a high-risk coronavirus city since the start of the outbreak.

When worried friends and family asked me if I was scared or if I wanted to come home, my first instinct was, and still is: I am staying in Busan, South Korea.

In November 2019, I set out to travel in South East Asia while finishing up my Master's Degree in Political Science.

I was eager to take a break from the mundane academic environment.

I am also a complete foodie and was craving an environment radically different from my life in South Africa. Hence, South Korea sounded like the perfect place to start.

I mean, what could go wrong?

When reports of the virus surfaced in early January, it wasn't even a blip on my radar.

Since I've arrived in Korea, I've marvelled at the high functioning level of Korean society. I have specifically been impressed with public transport, social security, service delivery and efficiency within the health sector.

South Korea has also been a country where I have felt safe since the moment I've landed. I have not had to look over my shoulder for being followed after a night out.

Nor do I have to make sure my valuables are all still in my purse when travelling through crowded food markets.

The idea of the virus spreading to the safe environment was something that seemed like a distant reality. This comfort was supported by the South Korean government’s rapid response in communication and travel restrictions from China to stop the virus from even entering the country.

Life continued until the catalyst event in mid-February.

One woman, who had travelled to China had spread the virus to her church community in Daegu, one of the biggest cities in the country.

These group members did not know they were infected and had travelled across the country, spreading it to other cities.

Before this outbreak, there were isolated cases and reports in Seoul. Still, it was not a threat to the broader population. The events in Daegu changed everything.

Within the weeks that followed the once-bustling streets and my local beach filled with tourists became a ghost town.

My phone has been subject to regular emergency broadcasts informing citizens of new patients, their travel history, and government announcements.

Businesses and schools have been closed since 23 February. Lines are snaking outside pharmacies for face masks which have been rationed by the government.  Korean society has shut down since the mass outbreak.

In this time, I've had to cancel my plans for the running marathons I entered. My travel plans have been placed on hold. I have been confined to my small apartment.

I have had to plan trips to the grocery store and avoid public transport at all costs.

This experience was frustrating and infuriating at the same time because it felt like I was trapped in a strange dystopian world. This was very different from the trip I had imagined.

The isolated daily routine had almost become too much when I seriously thought about coming home.

As luck would have it, the virus was then transmitted in South Africa.

South Korea was placed on the restricted travel list. It is not only for the restriction, but I realised that whether I am in self-quarantine in Korea, or back home, it does not make a difference.

At least here, I won't be a burden on the South African health sector.

The spread of the virus has made me feel different about the corona pandemic.

At first, it was far removed while still in China.

When the infection spread to Busan, I always felt safe.

This was because I knew I had an excellent hospital 300m from my front door equipped with a quarantine centre.

The spread of the virus to South Africa has changed my view completely.

I am concerned about friends and family back home because unlike me, they do not have the same luxury when it comes to healthcare and state capacity.

The conditions in Busan has gotten better but corona is not gone yet. Living through the corona pandemic has been an unnerving experience. I don't know what will happen next.

For now, the only thing left to do is wait for it all to be over and to stay at home.

Yes, corona will have effects on the global economy and people's livelihood.

Still, the consequences of continuing business, as usual, is far worse than short term inconvenience. 

- Inge is a Masters student in South Korea, and originally from Cape Town.

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