One week ago I was sitting at my desk correcting essays and assigning homework for the day. I was still keeping up with the news via morning podcasts, both back home in the USA and locally here in Korea, however headlines of the Coronavirus [COVID-19] had fallen to the back burner. Instead, the US was focused mainly on the democratic debates, discussing Bloomberg's appearance back on the stage and who is best suited to take on Trump. Meanwhile, Korean news talked about negotiations with the USA regarding troops on the Peninsula and the never-ending issues with the North. The number of Coronavirus cases in Korea had reached the 30's, manageable and of little worry to the majority of the population. Then on Tuesday, it was announced that a 61-year old woman had been diagnosed in Daegu, after apparently visiting church, a wedding buffet and medicine clinic while exhibiting symptoms. One week later and here I am, wondering how my home has become national news; NPR, The Guardian, New York Times, BBC, we're everywhere. It's interesting though, living in the place where the news is happening, to see first hand how quickly stories get twisted and fake news can spread.
While [most] of the news articles I've read contain factual information, many of them are written with a tone to incite panic and fear. True, the virus has killed individuals, but buzz words like "outbreak, pandemic, and deadly virus" makes me shake my head. We know sensationalism sells, hot headlines and buzzwords exist for a reason, but in times like these I'd rather read the facts than have the city I'm living in read as a "hotbed of disease". Some expats here were being contacted by friends and family back home asking about the "quarantine of Daegu" and apparent deaths of military personal, neither of which were true. I remember one of the first rules we learned in Elementary school research projects was to check your sources, but it seems that the majority of the general population has forgotten this key detail in the modern, information overload, world we live.
Obviously living in a country where you don't [fluently] speak the local language can pose some challenges to accessing the most up to date and accurate information. I've appreciated though that multiple local news sources have been consistently updating their English versions with the latest headlines and numbers, the trick is knowing which are most reliable (Imagine being new to the USA and not understanding the difference between Fox, CNN or CNBC). I'm also part of a group on Facebook geared towards expats in Daegu, the owner of which has gone above and beyond in translating articles and providing information, despite currently being back home in Canada. I've been proactive in staying up to date with what is going on around me, reading from different sources to get a feel for what is true and what is sensationalism and buzzword headlines. It's a fine line though between staying informed and becoming obsessed with the situation. The first day I was home from work I found myself checking Facebook considerably more often than usual, just to see what everyone's take on the situation was, and it appeared many in Daegu were doing the same.
As far as what is true, the number of cases in and around Daegu has spike in the last week, as of this morning the country is up to 833 with over 500 of those cases being here in Daegu. The number of recorded deaths related to the virus has also increased to 7, however most of those were in cases of patients already being treated for other illnesses at a hospital in nearby Cheongdo. That hospital, along with the religious sect of Shincheonji are two ares of centralization among the spread of the disease. You can easily google and read numerous articles about this religious group, but the key takeaway is that if the sudden increase of infections is mainly within this group, it is likely that the city can control the spread to the general public. Some wonder why it has spread so quickly among members, but understanding that they meet multiple times per week, often sitting in close quarters for worship, it's not hard to understand. This is where rumors really went rampant though, with speculation that the church was not cooperating with officials, members going into hiding, or my favorite of all - that the church manufactured the virus as a means to end the world and the devote followers would follow their leader to heaven. I'm telling you people get creative in the time of crisis and panic.
In all fairness, there is a great deal of negative feedback circulating around the church, but its understandable when more than half of the recent cases have direct ties to the organization. Outside of blog posts, internet cafes (these are oddly popular in Korea) and other social media stories, one main opposition has come from other churches. Churches have been posting signs (like the ones below) forbidding Shincheonji members from entering their premises, as the members are known for proselytizing at other churches in a hopes to grow their membership. Then there's the most recent development of an online petition where those in support are hoping to dissolve Shincheonji by force.
sIn reality, yes Daegu is taking a hit, but we're no where near being "Wuhan 2" as some have already predicted. Honestly, if I was not working in the education sector, or following the news online, my daily life would not have been greatly affected. I can still leave my apartment, restaurants, marts and convenience stores in my neighborhood are operating as usual and public transportation is running (although the number of users has significantly diminished). Some businesses has chosen to close their doors, but I would imagine this is because of personal concern for their health or a general decrease in customers and sales. While empty streets downtown mean less economic activity for the city, I do appreciate that people are taking the advice to stay home seriously. The most effective way to stop the spread of this is to limit person - to - person interactions, but unfortunately there will still be the handful who believe their "one trip" somewhere won't matter. We can't stop all the idiots, but fingers crossed that most people consider others health and safety before acting out of their own selfishness.
Again, I think the most important thing is to remember to read multiple sources and check sites. These days everyone is connected 24/7 at the palm of their hand and I'm living in a country notorious for internet netizens. Give them all a reason to sit at home behind their computer screens and social media sites, blogs and discussion rooms are bound to go crazy. Here I am adding my two cents to the internet world of opinions and beliefs, but to be fair no one really reads my posts anyway - it'll serve as more of a time capsule to remember that I was here in Daegu during the 2020 Coronavirus outbreak.