By ArcLight


I know it's not to everyone's taste, but a bit of street art with dereliction combined is pretty much irresistible to me. For the record, this is on the burned out pub where the Water of Leith walkway joins Newhaven Road.

We were inevitably not early up today, although by the standards of yesterday's time we were up pretty smartly. Really, this bloody time change could have been abandoned this year. It's really not necessary to put everyone through this as well as everything else. For what purpose, exactly, do we need light evenings this year? In order to taunt us all the more for our locked-in state?

I took my new spinning bike for a cycle around some small roads in Germany, thanks to youtube. I found that more satisfactory than following a HIIT studio session all on my own. At least I saw some changing landscape.

After lunch we went for our usual wander around the paths. Bad mistake. We must never do that again at lunchtime. It was heaving - and lots of people were really not trying very hard at the physical distancing business. We both found it very stressful.

Later on I caught up with L, who is still very busy at work and doing virtual drinks with friends that seem to be as bad for his liver as any other type. A chat with a friend in NYC has been postponed to another time. And a friend on Facebook currently based in South Korea offered a 'different way'. He's made his post public, but in case he changes his mind I've cut and pasted the main essentials here:

"The last time I posted on Facebook I described how South Korea has a very different approach to coronavirus compared to other countries. It is doing huge amounts of testing, and then tracing contacts of those with the virus, and testing and isolating them. Well, I’ve now had personal experience of this. After some cases of COVID-19 (imported from overseas) the Korean public health authorities swung into action.
First they drew a huge circle around potential infectees, until they could work out how far the outbreak had spread. They identified contacts, and contacts of those contacts. A large number of people - around 150 plus their families - were first ordered to self-quarantine entirely for a couple of days. During that period they started mass testing. They started at the centre, testing those who had been closest to those infected.

Testing was done with a lot of caution. We were collected from our apartments and taken to the testing centre where hazmat-clad doctors behind plastic screens took our details and then swabbed us for the virus. The whole facility was outside to reduce transmission risk. The first set of tests were processed in less than a day, and fortunately no other cases were found. That meant that the initial broad quarantining was relaxed. However, all those who had direct contact with one of the patients were served with a quarantine notice. I tested negative, but have been in strict quarantine for the last ten days. (Anyone who tests positive is immediately taken into an isolated treatment facility and not released until they have been treated, and tested negative - twice - for the virus.)

Quarantine notices are legal orders in Korea, and breaching them can result in fines, imprisonment, or even deportation. I’m not allowed to set foot outside my apartment (which is unfortunate since I’m currently staying in a tiny Airbnb studio). I get a phone call every day from a doctor to check how I am, and I text my temperature and (lack of) symptoms to him twice per day as well. The calls are to monitor health, but also to check we are respecting the quarantine. On the first day our group was quarantined we received an urgent phone call: they couldn’t reach two colleagues who were under quarantine, and the health authority were about to call the police if we couldn’t get them to respond (we reached them fast and reminded them to answer their phones!). No going out to the shops - everything has to be delivered and left outside the door for collection once the delivery person has left.

This may sound pretty draconian, but this is how Korea has kept the number of infections under control. And we have been given strong support to manage the self-quarantine as well. I mentioned the daily medical checks. The local authority delivered an emergency kit with a digital thermometer so I can text my temperature to the doctor. They also delivered disinfectant and special trash bags. All rubbish has to be put into hazardous waste bags and must stay in the apartment until the quarantine is over. Then it will be collected and incinerated. Finally, the local council also delivered an emergency food kit - enough food for at least a couple of weeks, featuring Korean staples like cooked rice, ramen, curries, tuna, seaweed… and of course spam, which is hugely popular here.

I get out in a few days, but soon many others will go into isolation since Korea today announced that all arrivals into the country will be subject to 14 day quarantine orders. Domestic infections are under control, but the big threat now is importing the virus, especially since most other countries don’t have the kind of testing and tracing system that allows Korean authorities to know how many people are infected, where the infection has come from, and who they have been in contact with.

The Korean organisation - and the surveillance - is incredible, but so too is the kindness and compassion. Doctors at the test centre sincerely apologised for keeping me waiting to be tested (for 20 minutes whilst they tested my colleagues!). The doctor who calls every day checks (in English) to see if I need anything or can do anything to help. And the emergency kit included instructions in English - which the local authority put together specially for our international organisation. Since I’m part of the crisis management committee I’ve also seen numerous other acts of care which the local authorities are offering to us, and I am immensely grateful to local and national authorities for the support they are giving this international community in their midst.

When I heard about this response to coronavirus I wondered how Korea could afford to do this. The testing, tracking and treating system is a massive enterprise. But whilst in quarantine I've seen how the uncontrolled and untracked spread of the virus in other countries is leading to massive strain on health systems, growing death tolls and huge economic damage. I can now see why Korea has made that investment to contain the coronavirus."

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