It seems like the coronavirus is taking the world by storm. As of this very moment, we have 4,335 confirmed cases of coronavirus here in South Korea, making it the largest outbreak outside of China. Although the first case was recorded back in mid-January, people weren’t as concerned until the numbers started to skyrocket last weekend. We had been receiving text messages keeping us informed on the situation, but when the messages went from one every other day to two or three in one day, we knew things were getting bad.
The Shincheonji Church of Jesus
At the center of the coronavirus outbreak here in Korea, we have the Shincheonji Church of Jesus. Lots of articles outside of Korea have been reporting it as a “secretive church,” “religious group” or “shadowy church,” but in all honesty… it’s just a cult, plain and simple. The members of this particular organization believe their leader, Lee Man Hee, to be immortal and the second coming of Jesus. Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, but I won’t go into that box of crazy right now.
Cults are actually quite common here in Korea, but that’s not the actual problem. The real issue lies with a member of this cult who was infected (obviously sick) and decided to attend 2 separate “masses” and infect the other members. This is when the the numbers started to skyrocket. In addition, it has recently been revealed that they have another branch of their church in Wuhan, where this whole coronavirus mess started. Their leader has declared the virus to be “the devils deed to curb the rapid growth of Shincheonji.” Yeah, ok, thanks bro.
Now, people are calling to forcibly disband the church, not because it’s a cult, but because they’ve been obstructing the investigation regarding the coronavirus. Since the alarming increase of infected people in Daegu, the government had been demanding a full list of its members so that they can all be tested. Rather than cooperating, the members went into hiding, continue to hold secret bible study and refused to answer their phones or doors. When the group finally decided to hand in a list, it was obviously incomplete. So, in short, the numbers continue to increase a few hundred everyday.
With the number of infected people increasing everyday, I can see that pretty big steps have been taken here in Seoul to prevent further spread of the virus. The entire start of the school year has been pushed back and large companies are closing for the week and asking their employees to work from home (my husband included). We’re also finding that community centers, gyms and anywhere where large groups of people gather are closing temporarily as well. That also means that any festivals or protests have been canceled or postponed until further notice.
In addition to canceling public events, Seoul has automatically extended the visas for foreigners who need to renew them between February 24 and April 29th. This is to spare foreigners a trip to local immigration offices to help minimize their chances of being exposed to the virus on public transportation or in the offices themselves. Some visa types can even be renewed online, all of which I thought was really considerate on the government’s part.
As far as combating the virus head on, the government has made COVID-19 testing readily available and mandatory for those showing symptoms or who have traveled to high-risk areas. Most hospitals and even some doctors offices can administer the test. What’s even better is that all treatment for confirmed cases is free! Gotta love the Korean health care system.
Face masks have become a daily necessity. When the virus first broke out, lots of people were smuggling then into China in bulk, which wasn’t too big of a deal at the time. Now, with our numbers growing everyday, we have been experiencing shortages. Just about every pharmacy we’ve been to has been completely sold out. As such, customs has been cracking down on mask smuggling at airports. Anyone found in possession of more than 300 masks is fined a minimum of ₩800,000. It’s not a very surprising response considering everyone is wearing one, meaning anyone who isn’t wearing a mask sticks out like a sore thumb. People who work in restaurants, cafes, markets or any kind of service industry are required to wear one during work hours, not to mention anyone in the medical field. Even our vet’s required everyone to wear a mask in the waiting room. So yeah, it’s pretty serious.
And of course there are all the little things reminding us all to stay safe and healthy. Just about every building, subway station and park has signs for the “Do’s and Don’ts” of coronavirus or reminders to wear masks, wash our hands and cough into our elbows. What we’ve started seeing more of around our area is free hand sanitizer or little sanitization stations. Most buses have hand sanitizer bottles at the entrance or exit for anyone to use. We’ve even seen little stations set up at markets to wipe down shopping cart handles.
All in all, we’re just trying to live our daily lives as normally as possible out here. We are quite unsure how long this situation will last or how much worse it will get before it gets better. All we can do is make sure to wear our masks, wash our hands, travel with caution and stay healthy. So until next time, stay safe everyone!
- Live Coronavirus Updates in Korea
- The Korean Clusters
- Seoul Exempts Foreigners from Visa Extension
- Face Mask Smuggling
- Shincheonji Church of Jesus
- Testing Shincheonji Cult Members
- Vietnamese Corona Song