Tuesday, September 1, 2009

South Korea - Swine Flu will close all schools and pretty much shut the country down for 10 days--and give foreign teachers another 10 day quarantine

I've already written some posts about how I think Swine Flu is going to shut all of South Korea's schools down this September/October for 10 days--and since schools and hogwans also function as a kind of national babysitting service closures will amount to shutting down the whole country because many parents will not be able to work as they'll be home taking care of their kids . . .

H1N1/Swine Flu in Korea -- I predict all schools will be closed in Korea for 10 days this fall/winter--probably Sept/Oct,

H1N1 will become an epidemic in Korea that will see a revolution in hygiene awareness, and Koreans staying home when they're sick,

"You should go to the hospital" -- Korean cultural norm of going to hospital for many things may backfire on it for H1N1

The formula for this disaster basically boils down to these things.

1) As a general rule in Korea when someone sneezes and/or coughs they don't cover their nose and mouth.
2) Hand washing with hot water, soap, and for an appropriate length of time is also not common.
3) School bathrooms, and public washrooms in Korea, all too often do not have soap.
4) Students are not encouraged consistently to cover their noses and mouths when they sneeze and cough.
5) There is a general cultural attitude that believes you MUST go to school and/or work regardless of how sick you may be. This guarantees prolonging illnesses and infecting others in the schools and workplaces of Korea.
6) The general public is not educated about H1N1's basic facts: the signs and symptoms, how it is transmitted, and what they should do if they believe they have H1N1.
7) In Korean schools it is the students that clean the schools. The notion that students have the proper training on how to sanitize school classrooms, bathrooms, and the entire building properly is utter nonsense. Add to the mix that students do not generally use cleaning chemicals (and they shouldn't be using them, they're dangerous to use too) when they clean the schools each day and you get the formula for disaster.

Today in the Korea Times there was this article,
Temperature Gap Setting Off Flu Fears. Here's an excerpt that bears some attention.

"We will carefully consider the speed of the infection, the affected population and region and other elements before deciding to raise the alert level for the virus," Health Minister Jeon Jae-hee said Tuesday (my italics).

And, "The government decided to issue an order to close all schools in case the alert level is raised" (my italics, bold, and color).

Now here's the thing . . . I've already been put through two pseudo-quarantines since I came back to Korea at the end of August.

The first quarantine, and I use this word VERY loosely because it was not done properly, was during my orientation for a week.

The second quarantine, and again I use this word EXTREMELY loosely, is going on this week. I'm not allowed to have contact with students at my school. The bizarre aspect of this situation is that I still have to go IN to my school where I have contact with the Korean teachers . . . oh yeah, and students coming in and out of the teachers office.

Now it seems like there will be a THIRD quarantine coming up in the next few weeks to months when the Swine Flu hits Korea in massive numbers. I'm pretty sure I'm going to get the order from the powers that be that I should stay home in my apartment because I'm seen as a 'carrier' of the virus regardless of whether or not I'm sick.

I pretty much expect there will be mass infections among the student populations at each school--and that that will guarantee I get sick too because I can't escape the virus clouds that each sick student will expel into the air as they sneeze and cough without covering their noses and mouths . . . and then add to the mix that they will be touching surfaces in the schools that are high traffic areas that I will also be having contact with.

I made a lesson about hygiene and covering your nose and mouth for my students back in 2006. There is a very useful video clip from Outbreak, look at the 4:20 time into the video, where you see the virus cloud that comes out of a person's mouth and the camera follows the virus spores flying through the air and into the noses and mouths of other people in the movie theater . . .

Let me preface this video clip by saying I KNOW H1N1 is not the same as Ebola, or other deadly diseases, but I DO think that there is a fear factor behind how Korea is dealing with this 'exotic and foreign' disease that makes using this clip not all that much of a stretch . . .

The typical reaction I, and I think most foreign teachers, usually get when I chastise the students for not covering their noses and mouths when sneezing/coughing is laughter, sometimes mocking, and being told that the students are all friends and that they share EVERYTHING. Well, I generally prefer NOT to share viruses/diseases with people and I hope that H1N1 causes a cultural revolution in the schools and public spaces of Korea.

Let's just hope that the general lack of knowledge and experience dealing with viruses/diseases doesn't lead to these kind of extreme measures . . .

We may not see the military mobilized to deal with H1N1 but I suspect that we may see some bizarre ideas about how to deal with the virus in the coming weeks . . .

Lastly, "Some 930 students have contracted the disease at 400 schools, with 19 being closed" (Korea Times) I don't how many schools there are in Korea, nor how many hogwans, but I imagine if this number gets much higher the alert level will be raised and all the schools will be closed . . .

Update: I was re-reading the article and found this last part rather amusing, "To avoid virus contraction, experts stressed the importance of a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, fixed sleeping hours and a balanced diet to maintain the vitality of the immune system."

Senior year Korean high school students generally get 4-6 hours of sleep a night, and there is a general culture of sleep deprivation in Korea . . . studying and working hard is a matter of national pride, and sleep just doesn't factor into the picture.

Why the 'experts' aren't talking about covering your nose and mouth when you sneeze/cough, washing your hands regularly, and staying home when you're sick pretty much sums up my belief that the country will have to shut the schools down.


Brian Dear said...

They're still pushing that foreigner vector crap. This is a load of smelly horse shit. I carry my little "I had swine flu" certificate in my bag nearly everywhere I go these days. I don't want to be swept up in some stupid quarantine (again.) Let's not forget the fact that I caught the g'damned disease whilst IN quarantine. There needs to be a serious push towards personal hygiene, but unfortunately the Kimchi Kure seems to be the prevalent theme.

Talking to myself said...

Hello there.
I think you make some valid points here. I home your predictions are wrong though, for obvious reasons.

As someone who has been an English teacher here in Korea for over 3 1/2 years I am still disturbed at the lack of hygiene these kids exhibit. I am still disgusted at the high percentage of kids who don't wash their hands when they go to the bathroom. At times some of the hygiene amongst some Koreans is third world standard.

Some students are learning about some of 'the facts' of H1N1 so maybe just maybe, hygiene will improve. Just today one of my kids started coughing without covering her mouth and one girl went ballistic at her and told her why she shouldn't do that and informed her what she should do when she needs to cough. Perhaps this attitude will catch on with others. We shall see.

Before/after Chuseok should be eventful indeed... Hysteria here we come.

Jason said...

Hi Brian,

Either I get it while teaching from students, or I'll get it from being put into a quarantine like you were and it not being run properly.

Either way I fully expect to get it . ..

Here's hoping things don't become more hysterical than they already are.

Chris in South Korea said...

Step 1: find a mask.
Step 2: Write 'I DO NOT HAVE THE SWINE FLU' on the front.
Step 3: Write it in Korean if you can.
Step 4: Observe people's reactions.

Jason said...

Very funny.

And very tempting!


Foreigner Joy said...

Why again will there be a "third" quarantine...that I don't get...help?

Jason said...

Quarantine 1: if you went out of country during your vacation this summer you had to do a self-imposed quarantine in your apartment.

Quarantine 2: on right now--foreign teachers are not allowed to have contact with Korean students. I THINK this is a national policy but it may just be a Seoul education office thing (but what Seoul does so doth the rest of the country, right?).

Quarantine 3: if numbers hit a high enough level we'll all be out of our schools while they shut down and probably told to stay home in our apartments for the duration, and to not congregate with other foreigners in large groups . . .

Oh yeah, the word 'quarantine' here is being used extremely liberally because the in-practice aspect of it is . . . ahem, cough cough, not what it should be.

livefrommasan said...

"Quarantine 2: on right now--foreign teachers are not allowed to have contact with Korean students. I THINK this is a national policy but it may just be a Seoul education office thing (but what Seoul does so doth the rest of the country, right?)."

Not so down here in Gyeongsangnam-do, it's business as usual. I did notice more hand sanitizers, though, one on every teacher's desk, and they're in the bathroom. I don't think the kids know how to use them, they treat it like it's soap. Instead of rubbing it in, it gets rinsed off.

Teachers who were away for vacation do have to stay home for a week, still. My co-teacher was forbidden to go to Europe, so my principal knows that Koreans can get H1N1, too.

Jason said...

Hi livefrommasan,

I bet if you quizzed your principal through a translator that he/she wouldn't know the basics about transmission of H1N1--that being said at least he/she gets that Koreans can get it.

It's kind of sad that it seems like there's this myth out there that sanitizer is better than soap--and then add to the mix that the kids don't know how to use it properly . . .

Good luck down there.

Brian Dear said...

This whole business sounds just like a repeat of late May. I am so glad I already had the damned H1N1. The Koreans will never be a top economic power simply because this attitude is representative of all that is defective in the collective psyche. Although that could change with the new generation. The K-medical system was ranked around 112 in the last WHO survey (granted that was in 2000.) Some of that is due to simple ignorance and old-wives tales that continue to permeate even the so-called "educated" medical classes. The proverbial Kimchi Kure is the problem. The interesting thing is their own deep-seated racism is causing more problems than it's solving. Racism has put their country at risk for an epidemic of all sorts of diseases. Worrying about mad-cow, for instance, yet food sanitation standards are some of the lowest in the developed world. Hell bent on recycling, yet they individually package everything. The contradictions are almost funny. Sharing everything (food, bars of soap and towels in public restrooms, grooming products in love hotels) is a great way to transmit H1N1, yet you'll not see that practice adjusted, because it's "cultural." Slavery was cultural too, but that doesn't make it rational. I'm about to move to China and I expect it'll be exceptionally worse there.

Debbie said...

Quarantine 1: I left the country for vacation and was not quarantined or told to quarantine myself upon re-entry.
Quarantine 2: I have contact with my Korean students.

The nurse has posted laminated signs in all the bathrooms on how to wash hands. This may seem silly, but in the US the same signs were posted in the bathrooms years ago. For adults. In the workplace.

Jason said...

I don't think signs in the bathrooms on how to wash your hands properly is silly at all, adults or otherwise.

The bugger is how do you change a lifetime of habit in adults? Not fast enough I fear.

Laura Di said...

I am a teacher in Seoul at an International School and I have yet to be quarantined at all. I come in contact with my Korean students everyday so I don't think this is a Seoul government requirement.

Jason said...

Hi Laura,

If you didn't leave the country it's likely that you probably never heard about this at all from whoever is in charge of you. If you did leave on vacation and came back without being asked to stay away from the school for a week then someone at your school dropped the ball.

Private universities, hogwans, public schools, and national univerisities of education have (from everything I've heard and read) been asking their foreign teachers to stay away for a week if they went out of country during the summer, or are new to the country and just flew in.

The supervisor who spoke to the 460 foreign teachers I was with in the orientation at the end of August was from the Seoul education office . . .

Who knows . . . policies are often implemented in whatever way each school's principal sees fit.

Zach said...

No second quarantine in Jeollanamdo either.