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Sunday, March 29, 2020

Kudos to Korea's 4 Ts, but please no complacency

From pariah in February to role model in March, South Korea illustrates what kind of swings to expect from the roller coaster our species boarded last December. Watch out for Loch-Ness-monster-shaped graphics - there won't be just one curve to flatten, but series of waves that can either be reduced to wavelets by sound leadership and smart citizens, or grown into tsunamis by covidiots of all sizes and shapes. In between, normal people will deliver results that anyway won't belong to normal times.
As the 'Spanish Flu' illustrates, fighting pandemics requires whack-a-mole resilience
As a French Seoulite (right now experiencing the transition between confinement in Paris and quarantine in Seoul*), I can't help but draw parallels between Korea and France, who both saw their first major clusters originate from mass gatherings held by cults in February: Shincheonji in Daegu, Porte Ouverte Chretienne in Mulhouse.
As an observer of national politics and international affairs, I can't help but draw parallels between Korea and the US, who both registered their first COVID-19 case on January 20, or between Korea and Japan, who both received international praise for the way they managed to 'flatten the curve'.
Of course, as we speak, Korea seems to emerge as the clear winner in all parallels:
  •  Korea better trained and equipped, swifter than France:
    - After posting record numbers of new cases, Korea swiftly implemented containment measures around Daegu and the region, but also at the micro level, around each actual or suspected case, aggressively multiplying tests, treatments, and tracking with as much precision as possible. The population didn't need much pedagogy to put on face masks everybody's already used to wearing in case of flu or bad air quality. For starters, Korea also keeps remarkable track of most of its senior citizens and of their health, and boasts a greater and more modern ICU capacity.
    - France's health system, which was already imploding long before SARS-CoV2 showed up, is now literally choking. Not enough testing material, not enough face masks for a population anyway totally oblivious of their existence, not enough protection gear required for doctors and nurses coping with a pandemic... France even lacks the legal framework to track and monitor as acutely as in Korea, where all members of the cult could be tested: since the Occupation, databases featuring religion are illegal in France, and Korea's amazing(ly intrusive) apps tracking COVID-19 patients wouldn't pass the CNIL cut either. 
    - For a change, France is lagging behind Korea in terms of return on experience. It took us years to find out that the 2003 heatwave killed 20,000 people instead of the 3,500 initially thought, and only a few days ago was it made public that our COVID-19 statistics didn't include cases or fatalities outside of hospital systems. To start with, we can't even keep track of our senior citizens that stay all year round in their retirement homes. During the H5N1 crisis, the French government did create a stockpile of one billion masks, but the country was relatively spared by the virus, and a few years later this safety net was deemed unnecessary and abandoned. Korea took a hit during that crisis, and learned the lesson. The government didn't hesitate too long before containing Daegu while France waited until after the elections to take significant measures.
  • Science and facts first, 4Ts for Korea vs only 1T for the States:
    - To the most obvious 3 Ts (Testing, Tracking, Treating), Korea didn't forget to add the fourth one, Transparency. This time, the vaccine came from the Sewol tragedy: MOON Jae-in knows what happens to leaders who fail when their citizens' safety is at stake.
    - Unfortunately, this President Of The United States focused from the start on the only T he cares for: TRUMP. Because he thinks as usual that everything is all about him and his election, and that he can never fail, as usual he rejects science and facts, and everybody pays the price. How many lies, denials, delays? How many weeks wasted, how many lives lost forever? At best tens of thousands, because the US have at long last started to move, and once they do they can move mountains, but Trump's behaviors could well have cost hundreds of thousands of American lives.
    "If #Korea has the best protection mask against #AirPollution and #covid19,
    #USA had the best #protectionmask against #Science, facts, and #truth thanks to this #MAGA #Trump #mask:  @blogules" (@theseoulvillage - 20200309)
    "So #DonaldTrump wants to see full #churches on #Easter day. Well that's very easy to do. Even #Italy manages just that right now (see photo below). #COVID19US" (@stephanemot - 20200326)
  • Korea more decisive and transparent than Japan's government**: 
    - when most international media applauded Japan for its remarkably low number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities, only a few observers pointed out the fact that these numbers were not to be trusted, that very few people were tested, and that the government was responsible for many fatalities with its disastrous handling of the outbreak on board of the Princess Diamond cruise ship. Sadly, much more lives will be lost on the archipelago because Shinzo Abe and his team deliberately tried to hide the pandemic under the rug to save face, Tokyo 2020, and their own corrupt regime. The reason why figures were so good and the temperature didn't show? They deliberately got rid of the tests and the thermometer, treating cases as 'pneumonia', and refusing even to release statistics about pneumonia. For many, reality hit home only yesterday, when Dishonest Abe exposed his total lack of visibility and control:
    "After #Trump's #ITakeNoResponsibility, #ShinzoAbe's 'I-dont-have-a-clue-how-deep-I-dug-#Japan-In-but-in-a-fortnight-after-cases-have-multiplied-a-hundredfold-I-might-consider-declaring-a-state-of-emergency (scary quotes via @motokorich):" (@theseoulvillage - 20200328)
Of course, this is certainly not about countries competing against each other, but about mankind vs the invisible enemy, about humans vs their own failures.

Furthermore, Koreans already know how quickly and dramatically situations can evolve for the better and for the worse with this pandemic. And like everybody else, they are not out of the woods yet. Particularly with these recurring stories of churches holding services in spite of the ban, or this handshake-happy covidiot of a politician on the campaign trail:

"If #Korea govt locked up 'religious' leaders who persist in organizing mass 'services', prisons would be packed. Particularly their mass murderer sections." (Quote Tweet Raphael Rashid / @koryodynasty "This at the Yonsei Central Baptist Church today. I wonder how far spit particles can travel.") (20200329)
Frederic Ojardias / @fredojardias: "I just saw a campaigning politician (from the majority party) walking in a park in Seoul and shaking the hands of *every people* he met. Seriously, Korea. The #COVID crisis is not over. @moonriver365  @wonsoonpark Seoul Village / @theseoulvillage: "I'd #facepalm if touching one's own face weren't forbidden" (20200329)
So don't count on me to feed the ambient complacency. Or to complain about systematic screenings and tests upon arrival in the country.

One can only be impressed by the attention given to each and every one of us ever since we landed, from the welcome pack (masks, hand sanitizer, disinfectant, disposable thermometers, special trash bags...) to the daily calls from the district office, the neighborhood health center, and even the psychological support provided to anyone in need. Yes, during this quarantine, we're tracked by GPS, we have to report on two different self-quarantine apps every day (ministries of Health and Interior), we have to take our temperature twice a day for good measure, even if we tested negative to the coronavirus after arrival. But in too many countries, too many people would die for - and sadly too many people will die without - such attention.
"Free #protectionMasks, hand gel, disinfection spray, special trash bags for contaminated materials and instructions to handle them... dropped at your home. #Seoul welcomes you back in a country that copes seriously with #covid19." (20200326)
These days, Korea manages to maintain a significant level of economic activity, but that's a very delicate balancing act, and I'd settle for a trade-off where the economy is steadily running at around 85%, instead of 90% for the first week, but 70% afterwards. If we want most restaurants to remain open much longer, maybe limiting their activity (e.g. to take out) could make that more likely.

Avoiding complacency and relapses should be consistent at all levels. And if MOON Jae-in is enjoying a well deserved boost in the polls because of the way he handled the outbreak, that shouldn't be a green light for bringing back such rotten apples as CHO Kuk or SOHN Hye-won.

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* see this 20200328 tweet:

** as usual I make clear differences between Japan, Imperial Japan, and the politicians that are now ruining this great nation, betraying this great people.

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