SA man in South Korea about Covid-19: ‘You feel paranoid’

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South Korean streets. (Photo: Getty/Gallo Images)
South Korean streets. (Photo: Getty/Gallo Images)

In South Africa, it’s long queues in shops and empty shelves as people panic-buy in preparation to self-isolate to stem the spread of coronavirus.

But for some of our compatriots living abroad, it’s been a reality for months.

YOU spoke to Willem Coetzee*, who teaches English in South Korea’s Yangpyeong County.

“Any news of an outbreak of this kind is serious. But most people here in South Korea, including me, at first thought it would be an isolated incident that would only spread to other parts of China,” Willem says. “I never thought it would have such far-reaching effects worldwide.”

Willem says good hygiene is a priority in most Asian countries, and was even before this outbreak.

“[Asians] take off their shoes before entering someone’s home or certain restaurants, and the wearing face masks has always been a common sight,” he says.

By late February the shortage of face masks in South Korea got so bad the government rationed it to citizens via the post office.

In SA, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced schools would stay closed until 14 April, after the Easter weekend. But Willem says he doesn’t expect to see the inside of a classroom in South Korea until June at the earliest.

“You definitely feel paranoid. If anyone coughs in public, people will immediately move away from that person,” Willem says.

Many countries, including SA, have banned travel from South Korea but Willem says he hadn’t been planning on coming back to SA anytime soon anyway.

He says South Korea’s economy, like many other countries’ worldwide, has taken a serious blow – and that’s apparent when looking at the public transport system.

“South Korea is very small and one can get anywhere with public transport. But where before you struggled to even get a seat on a train, there are now regularly no more than about five people to a train carriage,” he says, adding that the whole scenario reminds him of the zombie movie Shaun of the Dead.

Willem lives near the capital city Seoul and usually travels there over weekends. “It looks like a ghost city because most people are in self-isolation, though they’re not officially in quarantine,” he says.

He says social gatherings – concerts, clubs and church – have been banned, as it has in SA.

“Church is the one thing I miss the most. Luckily, most churches have started streaming services online,” he says.

“I don’t think any other country in the world is as equipped and prepared to handle a situation like this,” he reckons.

“South Korea has CCTV everywhere and can accurately monitor millions of people.”

But, he adds, the virus’ spread has only really started now. “It’s something new and it’ll keep spreading.”

Unless other countries act as decisively and speedily as South Korea did to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

*Not his real name

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