I haven’t written about H1N1 aka Swine Flu since September . . . and today Brian from Jeollonamdo did a write up,

More cases of swine flu, more deaths

in which he displays an awesome summary of things being written on the Net.

Here are the posts I wrote back in August and September about H1N1 on my old blog at kimchi-icecream.blogspot.com.

H1N1/Swine Flu in Korea — I predict all schools will be closed in Korea for 10 days this fall/winter–probably Sept/Oct

H1N1 will become an epidemic in Korea that will see a revolution in hygiene awareness, and Koreans staying home when they’re sick

“You should go to the hospital” — Korean cultural norm of going to hospital for many things may backfire on it for H1N1

South Korea – Swine Flu will close all schools and pretty much shut the country down for 10 days–and give foreign teachers another 10 day quarantine

Here’s an excerpt from the September 1st post,

The formula for this disaster basically boils down to these things.

1) As a general rule in Korea when someone sneezes and/or coughs they don’t cover their nose and mouth.
2) Hand washing with hot water, soap, and for an appropriate length of time is also not common.
3) School bathrooms, and public washrooms in Korea, all too often do not have soap.
4) Students are not encouraged consistently to cover their noses and mouths when they sneeze and cough.
5) There is a general cultural attitude that believes you MUST go to school and/or work regardless of how sick you may be. This guarantees prolonging illnesses and infecting others in the schools and workplaces of Korea.
6) The general public is not educated about H1N1’s basic facts: the signs and symptoms, how it is transmitted, and what they should do if they believe they have H1N1.
7) In Korean schools it is the students that clean the schools. The notion that students have the proper training on how to sanitize school classrooms, bathrooms, and the entire building properly is utter nonsense. Add to the mix that students do not generally use cleaning chemicals (and they shouldn’t be using them, they’re dangerous to use too) when they clean the schools each day and you get the formula for disaster.

I’ve now been back in the public school system for two months, and in particular at an all boys high school.  Some things I’d add to the mix are . . .

1) The boys spit on the floors of the hallways and classrooms with an alarming regularity. I don’t know why teachers don’t try to enforce a no spitting rule, but I imagine that the spitting adds a nice little contribution to the infection rates for H1N1 at the school.

2) The school bathrooms are major vectors for transmitting the virus.  Every time I walk into a bathroom I see water droplets and puddles all over the counter.  Spitting copious amounts of water and saliva while brushing your teeth and in general splashing your face with water is a common practice in men’s bathrooms.  All it takes is ONE student with H1N1 to go to the bathroom and wash their hands without using soap, hot water, and washing for at least 20 seconds (see here for more details)–and they leave the virus all over the sink, the counter, the hot and cold water handles, and whatever else they touch.  Then add spitting to the mix and things get really groovy.  Oh yeah, I’ve also seen many guys do the ‘farmers kleenex’ style blowing their noses into the sink to clear their sinuses . . .

3) Something I’ve wondered about but really have no way of checking is that if students and teachers were actually washing their hands with a high degree of frequency is that the soap dispensers would need to be checked at least once in the morning and once in the afternoon in order to refill the soap dispensers.  I highly doubt that any kind of regular checking schedule has been set up.

4) Mask discipline is poor to non-existent in the school.  Guys who are sick walk around with the masks half on and half off.  They touch their eyes, noses, and mouths and then push the mask back up without washing their hands afterwards . .  . thus making wearing the mask nearly irrelevant in preventing transmission of the virus.

5) In the cafeterias there are no cough and sneeze splash guards over the food bins as students line up and walk along to fill up their trays . . . considering the general lack of covering one’s nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing I can’t even begin to imagine how often the food is given a nice dusting of H1N1 . . . hmmmm, yummy! Lol . . . sigh.

These are some of the major issues I’ve noticed in my school, and I imagine that they are a general concern in schools all over the country.

After having several conversations with different Koreans about the general H1N1 situation in Korea, and how the government is reacting in the Korean news media, I’m beginning to think that all elementary schools will be shut down for a week.  The middle schools are strong possibility but not as big as elementary.  High schools, though, are a whole other matter.

The Korean SAT (Suneung) is coming up in 16 days.  I’m not sure when designing the exam questions begins but the Korean university profs, and I think a few native speaker profs, are sequestered in a top secret location while making this exam.  Due to the high risk of questions being leaked willingly or unwillingly these people are under lock and key until the exam is under way . . . so the whole idea of high schools being shut down for a week due to H1N1, and then the Suneung being postponed is, to quote a Korean teacher I know, “IMPOSSIBLE.”

What does all this mean for foreign English teachers in the coming weeks . . . ? Well, I think some of us will win the ‘extra vacation time lottery’ and our schools will be shut down for a week.  Some of us will win that lottery but the win will be sabotaged by getting sick during that extra time off thus forcing us to stay in bed and recover from the flu symptoms.  And lastly, it seems like the high school foreign English teachers will totally miss out on any chance of winning anything, and will be at work and teaching.  I imagine that the ‘if you’re sick stay home’ WHO philosophy will reign in the high schools unless teachers begin dropping like flies too . . . in that case we might actually see everyone get a week off though how that will work with Suneung coming up so fast I have no idea.

I just took a look at the Korea Times to see if any new articles are up and saw this, Tamiflu Available at Drug Stores.

If this number is actually correct, “About 4,000 new patients are reported daily.”, I will refer you to the blog post I wrote about . . .

“You should go to the hospital” — Korean cultural norm of going to hospital for many things may backfire on it for H1N1

. . . in which I talk about how I don’t think the Korean medical centers and hospitals can handle this type of mass flooding of patients who think they have H1N1 and want to be tested.  There’s only so much the medical system can handle and then it’s going to collapse just from sheer numbers.

Here is perhaps the biggest reason why I still think there’s a high chance of all schools being closed across Korea,

“Korea has stocks of Tamiflu and anti-viral drugs for 11 percent of its entire population but the ministers said that the stocks will be raised to cover 20 percent by the end of the year.”

I don’t know what the population numbers are for kids under, just to choose an arbitrary age, 12 . . . and adults over 55 . . . but I’d be willing to bet that there is NOT enough Tamiflu for the high risk demographics–and that, I think, will close all the schools if only just to slow the infection rates per day and buy the government more time to produce more Tamiflu.

Others have pointed out that if students are not in school that working parents will still have to work and that this will translate into mass numbers of students congregating in PC Bangs (Internet Cafes) and other places and really do nothing to actually deal with the problem in an effective manner . . . but I don’t think that’s going to matter.  The government is going to be in a position where the parents and general populace are demanding that they DO SOMETHING, ANYTHING . . . and what is the biggest thing that can be done that is HIGHLY VISIBLE yet without SUBSTANCE?  Close all the schools.  This will allow the government to claim that they did something massive and big and put on a show of action regardless of whether or not it is effective–and as most expats who have lived and taught for an extended period of time in Korea know form is far more important than substance.

I wonder what will happen over the next few weeks . . . I especially worry about the elderly Koreans with pre-existing health conditions.

I hope things are not going to get as bad as I think they will . . .

J

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