I've said elsewhere that I think South Korea has done a pretty good job of responding to swine flu. In April, when the Korean Centers for Disease Control announced preventative measures
The best method is prevention. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
Also, try to avoid close contact with sick people. If you feel sick, the government recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
I joked that there were no preventative measures available to Koreans since they never cover their mouths, never wash their hands, and never stay home when they're sick.
I quoted the blogger Places and Words in September about some "insanity" at her school which typified the scene in lots of places:
I'm not so sure what the feel is back in the states, but all of the Koreans around me are acting I-N-S-A-N-E. They are constantly worried about swine flue, but they aren't actively doing anything to prevent the spread of it, or even the spread of any other virus such as the common cold. There's still no adequate soap in bathrooms, none in the bathroom at my school. No one covers their mouths to sneeze or cough. I've never ever seen any of my students wash their hands at any time throughout the day. They brush their teeth at least ten times but never wash their hands. They share everything- lollipops, chopsticks, apples-which isn't a bad thing but when you're worried about a pandemic, well, I guess you should practice a bit more caution. There is mandatory quarantine for anyone who's left the country. That's 7 days one is supposed to stay confined to their homes. However, in my city at least, myself and all of my friends have confirmed that none of the Koreans have taken the quarantine and showed up to work the very next day after they returned from a trip abroad. My own co-teacher told me they don't have to worry as much because it is a virus from the Mexicans and not from Koreans. And she's an 'educated' woman! A friend emailed today to say they are temperature checking all of the students that walk through the front gate at his school, but they are not changing the cover on the thermometer.
In my experience people are still coughing on each other and occassionally still coming to work when sick, but there are hand sanitizers everywhere, signs encouraging people to wash hands, and public awareness campaigns about handwashing and staying home when sick. A big improvement of hygeine in a short time, and it's kept the number of deaths at a fraction of that in North America.
I've said that I think Korea has done a good job of responding to swine flu, but the catch is Koreans have done a poor job of responding to the threat of swine flu. It was at first treated as a foreigners' disease, as were the preventative measures aimed at them: a large hagwon chain wanted to take the passports away from its foreign teachers, another chain announced it didn't hire infected foreign teachers (yeah no shit), foreign teachers were considered swine flu targets, foreign teachers were being quarantined while Koreans were not, and in May I collected some responses from teachers asked about flu by their schools. From commentor Robot Mike:
Apparently some of the parents at my hagwon have been phoning up enquiring about us and swine flu even though we have been in the country for 11 months.
Then my really nice former workmate joked something about my love of Kimchi being the reason why I haven't got the flu yet.
It's like they think Korean people are naturally immune to it or something.
And from commenter Stuart:
I was also quizzed over the phone yesterday,They asked me if I had been out of the country recently.
They only asked me, not any Korean person in my school.
I have to seriously question the logic behind these checks.
I read on Facebook about a friend's school that let a Korean teacher come to work and teach even though his son was home sick with swine flu, and we read this story on Dave's:
My friend went to Thailand for summer vacation. Upon his return he was given a 3 day quarantine period by his principal. During the 3 days he was supposed to watch videos at home and make question sheets and tests for the teachers to use in class. Well, the principal didn't trust him to do the work at home, so she told him he had to come to school and do the work in one of the classsrooms. Then, while he was at the school working on these resources, he noticed one of the Korean teachers was there teaching her classes. He thought this was odd because he had seen her in Thailand when he was on vacation. He asked the principal why he had a "quarantine" and she did not need one. The answer; because she is Korean and ate Kimchi on her vacation, she can not be sick.
Be sure to read through all the comments on those earlier threads and to browse through the "Swine flu in Korea" category for more.
In November I posted about Chonnam National University posting this sign on their Language Education Center
barring entrance to people who had been overseas within the week. An understandable concern perhaps, though the sign was posted only on the Language Education Center building, one used most frequently by foreigners. I looked at follow-up preventative measures at the university, including use of an Automatic Thermal Imaging Camera and locking all other entrances to the building in order to require visitors to use the main entrance.
A measure not only dangerous but found only in this particular building, not in other high-traffic areas such as dorms, cafeterias, or the library.
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. Many fall festivals were cancelled because the government encouraged organizers to cancel events that were to attract more than 1,000 visitors over two or more days, and posters all over the place encourage people to avoid crowds (ironic, of course, when you see the signs on city buses). 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.
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.