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Are you relaxed?

Feb 12,2020
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PARK SEONG-HUN
The author is a Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Before being posted as a Beijing correspondent, I did a one-year program at Tsinghua University. There was a discussion over an article at the time of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak — a story about a man who visited his hometown.

After feeling that he had a fever on his way back, he got out of the car he was in and walked tens of kilometers to his hometown. When he approached the village, he called his wife to meet him. He told her that he would not be able to meet his parents in person and asked her to send his regards. He bowed to the village and left. Villagers erected a memorial stone for him on the spot. The story was reported around the country as an example. When I read the article, I thought it was too much.

On Feb. 9, the coronavirus crisis in China surpassed that of SARS. As of 5 p.m., Feb. 10, 909 people had died. During the SARS outbreak, 774 people died. While I write in China every day, it was only recently that the fear of the novel coronavirus felt more real and frightening than SARS. A 13-year-old kid of my friend had a fever of 37.6 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit). With fever medicine, it fell to 37 degrees, only to rise above 38 at night.

Various thoughts crossed his mind. As he was the only person to go outside, he thought he may have transferred the virus. Or the groceries delivered every few days may have contained the virus. He would have passed it off as a common cold normally, but things are different now. He asked me a number of questions. Can he take the kid to the hospital? Can the kid take a flight when he has a fever? Should the family wear masks at home? He said he understood the desperation of the Korean residents who left Wuhan. It felt complicated. Fortunately, his kid’s fever subsided to 36.7 degrees Celsius. But I told him not to be assured because there is an incubation period.

It is bleak in Beijing. People wear masks, surgical gloves and goggles. It is not only the patients that are spreading the virus. People who have yet to develop symptoms are also transferring the virus. The source of the coronavirus fear is the mystery surrounding where it is coming from. Beijing expects 8 million people to return from the Spring Festival holidays.

Korea is responding differently. A Korean doctor working at a hospital in China sent me a message. He attached an article on the National Medical Center press conference, which said that the new coronavirus was not a severe condition. He wrote, “The press conference by a Korean research team with no experience of treating critical patients with the new coronavirus should not be considered a norm. The crisis happened because Wuhan city approached it relaxed.”

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 11, Page 28