Hello, faithful readers — all 3 of you! I hope this post finds you and yours well and managing. As you may know, I am an American expat living in Gyeongsangbuk-do, the hardest-hit region in South Korea. I have been getting messages from friends back in the U.S. asking about current conditions here in Korea, hoping to get a prognosis on what they can expect in the U.S. So let’s chat about that.
Let me begin by saying that we really can’t compare the situation in South Korea with that of the United States. For one thing, Korea is a much smaller, more densely-packed country. If someone gets sick in Busan, it will likely spread to Seoul and points north in a day or two. However, with a smaller population and containment area, Korea has been able to make tremendous strides in testing everyone everywhere, and keeping track of the numbers of infected. You may have seen the drive-thru testing on the news. Surprisingly, this was very effective. And Korea provided this service free of charge, as well as any treatment. Even in normal circumstances, Korea has that dreaded monster that scares Americans known as a compulsory National Health Insurance Scheme that covers 97% of the population. It is free to all citizens, and for those of us that are not citizens, the government still foots 50% of all of our health care costs. You may remember an earlier post of mine in which I detailed a three-day stay in the cardio intensive care unit in Severance Hospital in Seoul, in which I received top-notch care for less than $800 USD. What would that cost in the U.S.?
Due to the high cost of medical care in the U.S., Americans are understandably hesitant to go to see their doctor. Even if they have insurance, the co-pays can be excessive, and insurance companies will pull every legal trick they can to wiggle out of paying through any fine-print loophole they can find. Add to that the fact that America has taken money away from its crumbling infrastructure to line the pockets of the wealthy and feed a bloated military budget, and you end up without enough medical supplies to care for the 300 million+ population. There are not enough testing kits, and experts say that they expect the U.S. will need over 900,000 respirators before this is done. They currently only have 160,000. And you know damn well these limited supplies will go to the wealthy elite, the parasites in Congress and the CEOs at the top of the economic food chain.
So Point One: America, we NEED to fix our infrastructure, starting with our embarrassment of a health care system. And we need to stop showing preference to the wealthy.
Also, the Korean people have a different mentality when it comes to national unity. When the church-cult outbreak first began here in Daegu, Gyeongsangbuk-do Province, the government put the whole place on lock-down. They didn’t have to enforce it, Koreans self-quarantined out of a sense of social duty. Nobody left their homes unless they absolutely needed to, and if they did, they worse masks.
I realize that the experts say “only those with the COVID-19 virus who are showing symptoms should wear masks,” but most people cannot get tested in the U.S., and you can spread the virus even if you aren’t showing symptoms. So yes, masks can be effective.
In the first week, masks were sold out everywhere in my little town of Punggi. Signs hung in shop windows saying, “Sorry! We are out of masks!” Then the Korean government regulated how many masks a person could buy, and limited people to buying one day out of the week, determined by their date of birth. Soon, masks supplies rebounded. Today, when I was out shopping, I saw masks of different styles and colors, which I took as a sign that Korea is moving past the worst of it and is already on the road to recovery. Now we can buy masks anytime we like. They cost anywhere from USD$2 to USD$5.
Another thing that Koreans did differently was they didn’t panic-shop. There were always fully-stocked shelves and no shortages of anything, save the masks in the first week (and as I’ve said, they were soon regulated). Here, people only bought what they needed so that there would be enough for everyone, and we didn’t have to see elderly women breaking into tears in empty aisles. Granted, that poor elderly woman was in the U.K., but from what I’ve seen, America hasn’t been doing much better. Again, there’s that sense of social duty, the idea that all are one. A student of mine once explained Korean culture to me by drawing a picture of five smiling faces and one sad face. She said, “This is not Korea, because all cannot be happy if one is sad.” Think about that, and maybe you can have some toilet paper.
Point Two: We Americans need to recognize our social duty, and think of others even before we think of ourselves. We need to do this in every aspect of our lives, whether we are shopping or just thinking about going on Spring Break. And if we cannot, then the government needs to step in and regulate sales of essential items.
Lastly, it comes down to LEADERSHIP. Korea already had an epidemic plan in place, ever since the SARS and MERS outbreaks (2002-2003 and 2015, respectively). Korea takes diseases very seriously. The United States had an epidemic plan as well, but it had been implemented by the previous president (who was a black man). The current president does not like the former president (possibly because he was a black man), and he has been systematically dismantling everything the former president did ever since he took over the Office of the President. Even if those policies were beneficial to the world, the current president shut them down. This has been very damaging to the environment, among other things.
So the current president shut down the epidemic plan that the former president had put in place. Then, when the outbreak started, rather than getting an early start on dealing with the epidemic like Korea and other countries (which are run by adults) did, our president spouted conspiracy theories and insisted it was a hoax being perpetrated by the Democrats, and that it was no worse than the average flu. Then Fox News, his favorite news network that acts as the propaganda arm of his administration, echoed these ideas. Sadly, many Americans believed them.
Then our president continued to say stupid things, giving conflicting and confusing information, at one point even touting a mixture of medications as a possible cure as though he were a doctor himself. Medical professionals said this was dangerous and irresponsible, but a couple in Arizona tried to follow the president’s advice, and now the husband is dead and the wife is in critical condition. Bottom line is, when experts and educated scientists and doctors have to warn the public NOT to listen to the president, there is something very, very wrong with the leadership.
Then, for a little while, the president started to admit the situation was serious, and he began to step aside and let the experts handle the crisis. But then, today, the president went back to idiot mode and said he wants to see the economy back to normal by April. He also has already declared a victory over the COVID-19 pandemic. He has declared this when the crisis has barely even started in the U.S. This is not only stupid, but dangerously so.
Speaking of leadership, the United States government has a known history of choosing profit over the well-being of the people. I have said it before, and I will say it until it changes: the U.S. does not have a government ‘by and for the people,’ but ‘by and for the corporations.’ The disastrous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on Citizens United put that final nail in the coffin of our democracy long ago. Now, once again, we are seeing the government side with multi-billion-dollar corporations over the people. The president has even said it’s OK if people die, as long as the stock market is healthy. The COVID-19 Relief Act that the Republicans tried to push through gave billions in unconditional bail-outs to wealthy, over-charging corporations, and threw a pittance of pocket change at the real people on the front lines of this crisis, including the workers in our grocery stores, pharmacies, health care sector, public services like police and firefighters, and our supply chain. And that pittance DID come with conditions. Do you know where the word “pittance” comes from? It’s onomatopoeia from the sound of a rich person spitting on a poor person’s head. (That’s not factual, but I came up with it and I want it to become a thing.)
So Point Three, America needs to oust our current leadership, root and stem, and replace it with what it was meant to be: Competent leadership that is concerned with the welfare of the common people ABOVE ALL ELSE. (And it AIN’T gonna be Biden and the Democrats. They are just the other wing on the same dragon of corporate greed.)
And so that’s it. Yes, Korea seems to be past the worst of the COVID-19 crisis, and we hope it continues on to brighter days. But Korea is a different animal, and it will respond differently to a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The United State’s fight is just beginning, but we can also survive this crisis and be out of the woods by summertime — *IF* the government starts caring about the people, and the people start caring about each other.
So what’ll it be, America? Get our priorities straight and get out of this mess before it’s beach season? Or continue to panic-purchase guns and toilet paper while supporting a government that continues to spit on us? The choice seems obvious, doesn’t it? Look at what happened to our friends in Italy, and remember that this virus is not just a death threat to the elderly and infirm. Think about your community.
The world is watching.
PS: I once read that “chains of debt hang just as heavily as chains of iron.” Debt is one way our corporate dictatorship keeps us oppressed. (I’m sorry, is ‘corporate dictatorship’ too harsh a phrase? Consider that they control the media, and that they take the lion’s share of the wealth and resources of our nation for themselves, while giving the rest of us unrealistic, physically impossible platitudes like “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”) So consider this when you face the real peak of the coming crisis: A debt jubilee. Imagine our government giving us our real freedom again.
[This is an extra, personal note about my experience just because I like it but have no place to put it on this blog.]
Who knew having OCD could be a benefit? I’ve been preparing for this pandemic my whole life. Although working from home, I still occasionally run out of food and water and must venture outside. When I return home, I wash my hands thoroughly after putting everything away. Then I take a wet wipe dipped in a few drops of bleach and disinfect my cell phone. I move it to a clean paper towel on the counter, then wash my hands again. Then I wash my face with soap and water. Say what you will, but I am living in the central outbreak region in South Korea, and so far, any symptoms I have experienced have been extremely mild. It drives me crazy that this pesky virus can live on plastic for up to 19 days, and EVERYTHING is packaged in plastic. I stick to mainly a plant-based diet, and I have been eating foods that are said to boost the immune system. I take precautions where I can, but let’s face it, X gon’ give it to ya.
Take care of your health. Take care of each other.