South Korea is only separated from China by the Yellow Sea and North Korea, making it one of the flashpoints for the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.
By 2 March more than 4 330 new infections and 26 deaths have been recorded there.
Marinette Laubscher, a South African who’s teaching there, spoke to YOU about the strict preventative measures currently in place.
Marinette has been teaching English for three years in Pohang, South Korea. “This virus, which seems to be turning into a global pandemic, has everyone here on edge.
“All schools in the city have been closed to students for two weeks already. Some schools are open for a few hours a day but only for teachers. School buildings have been sanitised but most parents chose to take their kids out of school until they feel the greatest risk has passed.
“We’ve been asked to put ourselves in quarantine – so to avoid traveling and staying indoors as much as possible. I order all my groceries online and we try to entertain ourselves at home. In the meantime, we’re hearing more ambulance sirens and helicopters than usual,” Marinette says.
“We get alerts on our phones when new cases have been registered in our city. All information is then provided, including where the person went, step by step. All the places the person visited are closed down and sanitised. It’s so effective.
“If you’re sick or if you feel you’re getting sick, there’s a national hotline you can call. Ambulances with personnel dressed in hazmat suits will come to pick you up, or you can go to your nearest medical centre for testing,” she explains.
Classes have been cancelled for now out of fear that the virus will spread faster in schools, but Marinette says it looks as if the schools might reopen on 23 March.
“When you go out, it’s best to wear your mask. Supermarkets and convenience stores don’t allow you in without a mask and you’ll probably be denied access to public transport such as buses without your mask.
“Personal health and hygiene is top priority. So, apart from always wearing a mask outside, thoroughly wash your hands often and always have hand sanitiser at the ready."
People are advised to be vigilant about possible risks of COVID-19 infection in their environment, she says. They’ve also been informed precautionary measures to protect themselves.
“Use your elbow or knuckles to press lift buttons or climb the stairs. Sneeze and cough into your mask and hold your arm in front of your face. And of course, stay away from sick people! Take your vitamins to boost your immune system.”
She says it’s eerie how quiet the streets in Pohang are now. The busiest intersection in the city is deathly quiet and one of the usually bustling restaurant districts is now a ghost street, Marinette adds.
She says it’s getting harder to find the masks. It’s almost sold out everywhere and if you do manage to find some, you pay a premium.
Yet Marinette has no regrets about teaching in South Korea.
“It’s a wonderful experience. There are so many opportunities and teachers are in great demand.
“Though the situation is stressful, we’re staying positive and taking things as they come. I’ve decided to stay here because their prevention is top class and I enjoy living here. Things will go back to normal sooner or later.”