Coronavírus e a resposta da Coreia do Sul

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Falei com uma amiga jornalista sul coreana, Eunji Wie, de Seoul, a perguntar-lhe como está o país a responder à pandemia do COVID19, o que nos pode trazer ensinamentos, uma vez que a mortalidade na Coreia do Sul devido ao coronavírus tem sido extremamente baixa.

Eunjie Wie tem bastantes dúvidas sobre a resposta do governo sul coreano ao surto de coronavírus – que tinha, a 15 de março, 8.162 casos confirmados e 75 mortes. Uma taxa de mortalidade de menos de 1%. Duvida que os testes sejam totalmente eficazes. Questiona-se se já se testaram e contabilizaram os doentes mais idosos infetados com coronavírus, uma vez que até agora 28% dos infetados eram jovens de 20 anos. Refere que o governo devia ter adotado a política de distanciamento social mais cedo. Por último, o surto localizou-se em Daegu, no sul, e há receios de chegar a Seoul, muito mais populoso.

Em todo o caso, há um bom sistema de saúde, que tem dado boa resposta aos casos confirmados. E as pessoas têm geralmente cumprido o distanciamento social (ainda que continuem todos a trabalhar), evitam multidões, fazem compras online, todos usam máscara (um hábito usual na maioria dos países da Ásia Oriental, desde o surto da SARS em Hong Kong em 2003 e que se tem verificado proteger do contágio, mesmo que se não totalmente, e que deveria ser adotado por cá pelas pessoas que trabalham em contacto com os outros colegas ou com o público, quem anda de transporte público e quem sai à rua a fazer as suas compras de primeira necessidade), usam desinfetante para as mãos. As escolas e universidades estão fechadas e não abriram para o semestre da primavera depois das férias de fim de ano. Há transparência na informação prestada pelo governo. E retiraram-se lições da epidemia de MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) de 2015.

Deixo aqui a minha conversa escrita com a Eunji Wie. Não traduzi, para não se perder o sabor do que foi dito.

How is the population coping? Is there widespread quarantine, even for those not suspected of contacting with the COVID19 positive?

The government and public health professionals are urging ‘social distancing’, which means keeping 2 meters space between me and the others. It is one of the public health tactics to slow down the transmission.
Quarantine is a must for Covid-19 positive and those who are suspected of contacting with Covid-19 positive person. Those who didn’t have any contact with Covid-19 positive don’t have to be in quarantine, but some people voluntarily keep themselves in quarantine.

What are the major alterations coronavirus brought to south koreans?

Everyone wears a mask! It feels like you’re doing something bad if you don’t wear a mask outside. And hand sanitizers everywhere.
Also, many people try not to go to a crowded place such as shopping malls, cinemas, markets, etc.

Do you go to the supermarket as usual? Is everyone working? From home when is possible? Are the shops open? Restaurants? Cultural facilities? Non essencial public services?

I don’t really go to supermarkets. Everyone orders groceries or anything online. Delivery men are very busy these days.
Yes, everyone is working as usual including myself. Some people, mostly who work for big companies, usually work from home.
Shops, restaurants, cultural facilities, everything is open as far as I know. The government didn’t shut them but advised people not to go to crowded places.

There is no lockdown imposed by the government, just advice for not going to crowded spaces, right?

No lockdown. (I know it is different from what Europe is doing right now, and I guess this is because of the compensation issue. If the government shuts down certain places, then the government should pay for the loss, and it will cost a huge amount of money) except schools.
The places where the infected person visited remain closed for a few hours or 1~2 days because these places should be disinfected.

So is the population behaving very prudently?

Yes, overall people are keeping social distance, but there are always some people who don’t really care about it, for example, some Christians got infected during church service, although the government always says ‘don’t gather in the church’!

What about schools and universities? Open or closed?

Schools and universities are closed. Normally new school year begins in early March, but the government postponed the opening till next week. But there is a possibility that the education ministry re-postpone the spring semester till April.

What do you think about the reaction from your government? Prompt and effective? Were there mistakes? Policy inflections?

I don’t think the policies were prompt and effective. The government didn’t really move quickly, resulting in a lot of infections. In my opinion, we should have started doing ‘social distancing’ earlier. I think at first the government underestimated the situation, but now I see many other countries did the same thing.
We haven’t successfully contained the coronavirus yet, so it is early to tell whether our polices were really that effective. What I’m worried about is that spreading coronavirus in Seoul, where a quarter of the Korean population lives. It could lead to massive infections.
The government failed to make effective use of limited medical resources. The outbreak centered in the city of Daegu, but the government failed to categorize the patients. Some of the elderly patients, who also have underlying conditions, were not moved to proper hospitals, leading them to death. And the lack of medical staff in the city. Still, it lacks. Because everything in Korea is Seoul-centered, even the medical system.
The government did well on making coronavirus test kit as fast as possible. But I am not sure how reliable this test kit is.

Was there some learning from the SARS episode in Hong Kong in 2003?

There were no SARS patients in South Korea. But we were really affected by MERS in 2015. There were 186 MERS patients and 39 of them died. We learned a lot from this experience. One of the main things that have changed is that the Korean government tries to open information to the public. For example, the government quickly informs the public about where Covid-19 patients have been after they got symptoms so that people can avoid those places. In 2015, the Korean government hid this kind of information, and it led to more patients and intense anxiety among people.

The mortality rate in South Korea from COVID19 is very low. It comes from a very good healthcare service? From a young population? From good and early response containing the pandemic?

If you see the age group of all Korean cases, 28.3% of cases are in their 20s. Maybe it’s because we haven’t found all the elderly patients yet. And as we know, the fatality rate is much higher in the elderly group. Refer to the table.

Captura de ecrã 2020-03-16, às 00.54.38
Dados de 14 de março.

And yes maybe from the good healthcare service. I don’t know how the healthcare system in Portugal works, but most of the hospitals in Korea are private. Still, the hospital bill is really cheap because we have public health insurance. So people are used to going to hospitals whenever they want. If you have a headache, for example, you can walk in any nearby hospital and see a doctor without a reservation, and the hospital will charge you only 2 Euros. In this case, I am not sure but I believe all the medical expenses are paid by the government and insurance.
Anyway, doctors and nurses are doing their best to cure the patients, even though most of them don’t work for the government. We are heavily relying on the volunteer spirit of doctors, which in part I think is the problem because basically they are not paid properly by the government.

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Maria João Marques
Mãe de dois rapazes e feminista (das duas características conclui o leitor inteligente que não quer exterminar os homens da face da Terra). Licenciou-se em Economia ao engano, é empresária, mas depois encarreirou para os Estudos Orientais, com pendor para a China. É cronista do Público e escreve ocasionalmente ensaios sobre livros e leituras na Ler. Já foi blogger e cronista do Observador e Diário Económico. Considera Lisboa (onde nasceu e vive) a cidade mais bonita do mundo, mas alimenta devaneios com Londres e Hong Kong.

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