Thursday, March 12, 2020

Ave, ROK Drop!

I admit I've been something of a cheerleader for how South Korea has handled itself in the midst of the current COVID-19 crisis. Yes, I know I'm on record deploring the way in which the ROK government has played politics by unnecessarily cozying up to China, cavalierly allowing in 20,000 Chinese university students and sending China 3 million surgical masks. But I've also been an unabashed champion of South Korea's openness and rigor when it comes to patient testing, data collection, and dialogue with the outside world. I've said that South Korea's brutal self-honesty risks tarnishing its global reputation, but I've also said (or at least implied) that this is the proper path to follow. I stand by all that. At the same time, I recognize that it's good to keep a critical perspective on things. South Korea hasn't been perfect, and as a recent ROK Drop post points out, Japan seems to be doing a better job of handling the crisis. ROK Drop quotes from a Korea Times article, some of which I excerpt below:

It’s been over two months since the outbreak of the [c]oronavirus, or COVID-19. As of March 9th, Japan has 1,198 confirmed patients (705 of which are aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship) with 14 deaths, while South Korea has 7,313 patients with 50 deaths.

Why is there this huge difference in both patient numbers and deaths?


Largely missing from Japanese society are the incompetent hospitals, the gigantic [P]rotestant churches (280,000 followers), and the immense army bases (240,000 personnel) as [super-spreaders]. Japanese hospitals do not have lenient visitation practices, making them free of mass infections. Given the small [congregation] size [of] each church, no coronavirus outbreak has been reported among [churchgoers]. According to the Defense Department report of Feb. 25th, the military has also strictly cancelled all activities that involve inviting outsiders to maintain its full quarantine status.
The next paragraph in the article strikes me as a bit bizarre, a weird sociological tangent about how depressed and suicidal Korean women are these days. By the end of that paragraph, though, we are given to understand what the relevance of this sociological observation is: depressed Korean women have no safety net other than the church. Whether you, the reader, accept that observation is, of course, up to you. I plan to zip over to the Times and finish reading the full article, which I hope will provide a bit more sense and context.

ADDENDUM: far from being a tangent, women are the focus of the article, whose title is, "Why are women in their 20s more susceptible to coronavirus in Korea?" Look at this paragraph from the full article:

The South Korea[n] epidemic data stands out as a unique case. While most patients are males in their 50s and over in most countries, in South Korea[,] it is the women in their 20s who are most affected. As of March 5th, 63 percent of [all] COVID-19 patients in South Korea are women, while it is only 38 percent in Japan. Without expecting this blatant outbreak among women, the government concentrated on testing male patients in their 50s and over, especially those who had travelled to Wuhan, China. Initially, health officials could successfully curtail the outbreak by relying on their [world-class] testing kits and methods. Until Feb. 20[,] the number of confirmed patients had not surpassed 104.

The rest of the article talks about how Japan's objective, from the beginning, has been on quarantining "megastructures," i.e., large vehicles like the Diamond Princess as well as large organizations where masses of people routinely gather. The author contends that South Korea failed to identify and contain its own megastructures in a timely manner, which is how the Shincheonji Church became a significant epicenter for the in-Korea epidemic. Most of the Shincheonji victims have been women in their 20s, which is a departure from the more global notion that COVID-19 mainly targets the old and infirm.

The Korea Times article strikes me as being in need of some major revisions; it's disorganized and lacking in clarity. But it's still interesting, in its own meandering way, and I think it's worth a read, even if you end up disagreeing with it.

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