Wuhan virus scare spreads in South Korea

Employees disinfect ticket gates in hopes to prevent the contraction of the coronavirus at a subway station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Employees disinfect ticket gates in hopes to prevent the contraction of the coronavirus at a subway station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL (The Korea Herald/ANN) — Public fears mounted in South Korea on Tuesday over a deadly coronavirus outbreak in China, with more people wearing masks on streets, along with calls for an entry ban on visitors from China and a delay in reopening of schools.

So far, four people in Korea — three Korean nationals and one Chinese — have tested positive for the new virus, which originated in Wuhan, central China, and caused 106 deaths across the country. More than 4,500 infection cases were confirmed in China with 34 more across the world.

Parents voiced concerns about their children’s safety inside classrooms as schools start to reopen Tuesday after a monthlong winter vacation.

“We were informed by the school that we should wash our hands and wear masks when going outside,” said a 39-year-old mother, whose 8-year-old child has to reattend on Wednesday.

“But I am not sure whether the children can be effectively controlled when they gather inside the school,” she said. “Even though children weak masks outside, they don’t wear them inside classrooms. If not told, children usually don’t wash hands either.”

Some 2,100 parents signed petitions demanding the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education to postpone the reopening of schools.

Superintendent Cho Hee-yon said at a meeting with senior aides on Tuesday that extending the winter vacations could be an option and he will closely consult with relevant ministries to delay the reopening.

The Ministry of Education also held a meeting and advised students and teachers who have visited China’s Hubei province to self-isolate themselves and refrain from attending schools, and distributed manuals to urge educational institutes to closely monitor students and teachers.

The ministry, however, said it has not considered putting off the reopening of schools at this stage.

Many Koreans on streets and in public transportation were seen wearing protective masks.

“I am reluctant to go outside and visit crowded places. I try to wear a mask and wash hands more,” said Choi Da-som, 29-year-old office worker in Seoul.

Paik Young-jin, 48, who was going to work with a protective mask on in central Seoul, also said it is inconvenient to wear masks, but he was doing so not for himself, but for others.

“I think the government should take drastic measures — such as prohibiting the entry of people traveling from China — to effectively curb the spread,” he said.

More than 510,000 people have signed a petition calling on the government to ban the entry of visitors from China into the country as a “preemptive measure.”

An official from the presidential office on Monday hinted that Cheong Wa Dae would not consider imposing an entry ban on people traveling from China.

The government is scrambling to contain the spread of the epidemic by taking measures — including an all-out check on some 3,000 people who entered Korea from Wuhan over the past two weeks, as well as sending a charter flight to evacuate Koreans living in the Chinese city.

The sentiment was also strong online, where people shared information on the coronavirus.

According to Global Bigdata Research, the number of posts related to the Wuhan corona virus uploaded on social media and other online channels has skyrocketed for the past week. On Monday alone, the number reached 65,000, doubled from a day earlier.

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