By Kim Se-jeong
Foreigners appear to be left out of loop about the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) epidemic to the point of becoming cynical.
On a Facebook page, Annabelle who only disclosed her first name for this article said she wanted to know about travel insurance but found no information.
“Not a single question was asked about my health or travels in Korea when I exited Korea this morning,” she wrote. She had a day trip to Japan on Tuesday morning.
“No mention of insurance for tourists when I came back, though the news article said it would take effect on June 22,” she wrote. “I wonder if the tourists insurance will apply to anyone with a tourist visa at the time they catch MERS, and not just those who arrive after June 22.”
She added, “I highly suspect those that are scared of dying of MERS will not change their minds just because of that.”
Some expressed skepticism about the insurance. “It’s just a gimmick to reassure people that there is no reason not to come back,” Travis Hull who runs the expat group wrote. The government said the measure was to boost the troubled local tourism industry.
As of Wednesday, the deadly virus has killed 20 people, with more than 5,600 in isolation after showing symptoms of the virus.
Many foreigners are believed to be among the isolated people, but the government has refused to disclose the exact number.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said all foreign travelers will get free insurance upon arrival. Under the measure, the government will cover all medical expenses for travelers if they fall sick during their stay.
It also promised financial support for those who contract the virus.
Annabelle was critical of the sanitization process at Incheon International Airport.
“At Incheon, I saw the usual big signs about Ebola, but none for MERS, although I was in a rush to beat the other passengers to get through immigration first. The Korean immigration officer had a big bottle of hand sanitizer, but on his desk. He let me use his when I asked,” she wrote. “At Kansai, they had a bottle right next to the scanner. There was at least one desk in the Incheon arrival hall with bottles of hand sanitizer. On the flight to Japan, many people wore masks, but on the way back, few did.”
“Everybody wears masks and they use all kinds of antibacterial sprays everywhere and have an obsession about cleanness, but it’s contradictory if people spit everywhere they go,” an anonymous said.
Another user wrote, “There is a hand sanitizer at the entrance to one of our local hospitals and I didn’t see anyone besides my friend and I use it and all the signs are in Korean. I don’t think they take it seriously.”
A Facebook user who went by Lindsay lamented the government’s response.
“The teachers in my school just got a tutorial on coughing into your sleeve, versus into your hand or not covering your mouth at all, and how to properly wash/sanitize your hands. I feel like this is something that should have been taught three weeks ago when the MERS hype started,” she said.