Wednesday, 10 June 2015

MERS-y, MERS-y Me: Why It's Actually The Best Time To Come To Korea

Thanks to Marvin Gaye for giving me an idea for the title for this blog. In case you haven't heard his classic song about the environment, click this link for his video. Marvin's lines:

Oh, mercy, mercy me...Things ain't what they used to be, no no...Where did all the blue skies go...Poison in the wind that blows from the north and south and east..."

While Marvin Gaye lamented about the state of the environment through his song, we, here in Seoul, were also lamenting when the government bungled early on its handling of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or (MERS) outbreak. But now, when it's claiming that they have accounted for all those infected and quarantined those exposed, I am heaving a sigh of relief. 

Understandably, most international tourists who were booked to fly to Korea have cancelled their trips. But I'm thinking, there's a bright side to this MERS crisis. How? Well, let me enumerate on that later.

But in the meantime, since MERS is still the main topic these days, I'm sharing my own precautions:

1. Be updated everyday
Read the news online for the latest updates about the outbreak. Be aware of any new advisory as to the places to avoid, or what to do in case you think you are infected.

2. Avoid the listed hospitals and clinics.
The government has listed 24 hospitals and clinics in Seoul and neighboring areas, where the victims contacted the MERS virus. If I have to visit one, I'd go to the one not in the list.

3. Stay sanitized and clean.

As I don't carry a hand sanitizer, I wash my hands as often as I can; be it at home, in the office, or in other places. The hand rails I grasp on the bus and in the subway, the door knobs I turn, and the buttons I press at the ATM machines all carry microbes. And for those who visit the supermarkets regularly, those pushcart handles are definitely not squeaky-clean, too.
                   (M-net countdown: I counted only 2 out 
                   of 30 passengers on my bus wore masks)

In the elevator, I use my knuckles to push the button for my desired level. I actually use my knuckles for the ATM machines. No need to use those fingertips which you may inadvertently use to rub an eye. And for those who have a habit of biting their nails, you may want to look for another thing to bite.

Most cafes and restaurants also provide liquid hand sanitizers at the entrance; use it.

4. Clean your smartphones as often as you can.

There was a study that smartphone screens are actually dirty and populated with microbes. Inside the restroom, I wipe my smartphone screen with a wet paper towel, after which I blow-dry the screen and the phone case under the automatic hand blower.  

What's the point of having your hands cleaned when that thing you always carry is not?

5. Stay away from sneezing or coughing people.
I know it's always disgusting when the person next to you sneezes or coughs without covering his or her mouth. I notice that some Korean women try to cover their mouths when they laugh, but don't when they sneeze. And these days, people are on the look out for anyone coughing or sneezing in public.  

If they're not expelling the MERS virus, they could be expelling something else.

6. Stay healthy.
I read on the news that one MERS victim recovered. His immune system must have been strong enough to withstand the viral onslaught. Remember, there's no vaccine for this one. So, stay healthy and eat healthy.

7. Wear a mask.
I only wear a mask when there's a yellow dust advisory. During this MERS crisis, I don't wear one as I don't need to. 

But if you're traveling to Seoul, wearing a mask may give you some psychological security, knowing that you think you won't be breathing in the virus. The recommended mask is actually the N95 mask, which is more expensive. The regular ones just won't do.

I think wearing a mask during yellow dust days and during the flu season in winter is more helpful than wearing mask these hot summer days. In the bus and subway, I noticed only very few people actually wearing masks.

Now, that I have shared my precautions against the MERS virus, here are the reasons why I think it's actually the best time to come to Korea:


                 (Myeongdong is bereft of Chinese tourists)

REASON:  It's summer sale in Seoul!
Yes, you'll be missing out on the Seoul summer sale if you don't fly over. 

REASON: More haggling and more freebies!
Since the Chinese tourists, which represented the biggest tour group and shoppers, are not coming to Korea due to the scare, most vendors have to go all-out in order to make up for the loss. Vendors in Dongdaemun and Namdaemun probably would give in to your haggling just to make a sale. And perhaps, those cosmetic shops would give you more freebies, too.
(The intersection near Lotte Department Store downtown 
                is usually heavy with traffic on weekends, 
                      but very roomy last weekend)

REASON: No more long lines; no more crowded spots!
I guess you won't need an hour to wait for a ride on the Namsan cable car, or for a table at a Korean restaurant popular to tourists.

REASON: Airfare and hotel rates may be discounted!
Yup, you bet!  Since occupancy rates at hotels and B&Bs are falling down, they could be slashing rates right now to entice guests from other countries.  You might want to check out the airfare prices to Seoul, too!
                 (The Pinoy market in Hyewha-dong last 
                           Sunday was almost empty)

Perhaps, the only downside to your trip to Korea is the cancellation or postponement of certain summer events. Last Sunday, the planned Seoul bike parade was cancelled, and the Korean bboy championships in Uijeongbu City was cancelled as well.

So, to my friends who have been asking me whether it's safe to fly over to Seoul, I say, if you just follow my precautions, now's the best time!

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