Well, the Blue House's policy of temporarily excluding foreign tourists and children under 18 from tours due to swine flu makes Korea's English-language papers, anyway. An article by Adam Walsh appeared on the Korea Herald website last night, and in the paper today; an excerpt:
Cheong Wa Dae has been taking heat for its ongoing barring of foreigners and children from daily tours over fears of swine flu.
The policy has been in place for over three months, even though medical experts say banning foreign tourists and children, but not Koreans, makes little medical sense.
A Blue House representative told The Korea Herald the policy of banning foreigners and children is for their own protection. "The policy was made to prevent foreigners from contracting the illness considering that they would have difficulties dealing with the illness in a foreign country."
The English page on the Blue House's website says all tours are canceled for the time being because of the H1N1 flu, but the Korean-language site states tours are canceled only for children and foreigners. It also mentions the increased alert level from the World Health Organization. "Cheong Wa Dae tours are temporarily closed. South Korea has been relatively safe from the pandemic, but infections are worried to accelerate as people getting together like group tour. Sorry for this inconvenience."
The Korean site, however, has a different message. Though it is in the same format pop-up as on the English page, it states that Cheong Wa Dae is closed to children under 18 years of age and foreigners. Korean adults are still allowed to make reservations, but have to wear face masks for tours and if they have any flu symptoms it is recommended that they stay home.
A teacher in Suwon wrote into the Joongang Ilbo on the 8th about those who still consider swine flu a foreigner's disease:
Thus I find it very odd (and a sign of backward xenophobic thinking) that, in their fear of the virus, many people in Korea erroneously believe that one should be extra suspicious of foreigners, as if we are more likely to have it than Koreans. Perhaps that was justified when the virus first appeared in Korea earlier this year, but there is no longer any reason for that kind of thinking. Anyone who rode the Seoul metro or entered a classroom today is just as likely to have H1N1 as any foreigner here.
I was especially appalled to learn today that this backward thinking can be found even at the highest level of Korean society - the president’s own house. According to the Web site of Cheong Wa Dae (the Blue House), foreigners are being temporarily banned from joining tours of the building due to fear of H1N1. So now my students can tour the Blue House, but I cannot because I might have H1N1. This makes no sense.
Of course the denial about the reality of H1N1 in Korea does not help. Korea.net, a Web site run by the Korean Culture and Information Service (KOIS), made the incredible claim in a posting dated Nov. 27 that “most of the South Korean [H1N1] patients were infected with the virus outside of the country”. I guess that means that more than half of my previously-infected students have been traveling abroad on the weekends and in between classes!
As I wrote on Twitter last night, I'm not sure how often newspapers cite bloggers for breaking news, but credit must be given to Gusts of Popular Feeling for first writing about this on Saturday. It's thus no coincidence that the story made the papers today.
Inspired by Gusts of Popular Feeling's post, I wrote about the policy a little on Sunday, looking at other cases of biased measures. The point is not to make a fuss for the sake of making a fuss---I never had any plans to tour the Blue House---or to suggest that it's not the government's prerogative to regulate tours as it sees fit. But, to do so ostensibly to protect against swine flu---or, in the representative's words to protect foreigners against getting swine flu---by excluding all foreigners and visitors under 18 is too limited. From Sunday's post:
The problem with considering swine flu a foreigners' disease and directing measures only at them is at this point, as I think most Koreans will tell you, you run the risk of getting it anywhere and from anyone . . . As far as foreign teachers go, since the summer there's been more a risk of getting sick from their students---especially since students weren't staying home when sick---than from the other way around.
I think rather than being xenophobic or "backward," as the letter-writer put it in the Joongang Ilbo (unfairly, I think), I suspect this might have been due to bureaucratic simplicity. My conclusion on Sunday:
It would be reasonable to exclude foreigners who have arrived in-country within the past week. Rather than prohibiting all foreigners, why not simply make it a requirement to bring a passport with you when visiting and barring entry to those without it or to those, Korean or foreign, who have come to Korea within the past week or ten days? It sounds like somebody decided it would just be easier to keep out all the foreigners rather than checking documents and having to deal with foreign-language conversations.
For what it's worth, here's an article in the Maeil Shinmun from August saying the policy of denying admittance to those with a high fever, those under 18, and foreigners would begin on September 1st.