DERMOT Brennan is from Shallogans, Fintown. A PE and biology teacher, he worked for three years in Ardgillan Community College, Balbriggan before moving abroad to teach.
After spending a year teaching in Doha, Qatar, then two years in Qingdao, China, he has been living in Seoul, South Korea for the past eight months and teaches PE at Korea Kent International School.
“I’m thoroughly enjoying it here. I’m lucky to have great students, colleagues and a nice sense of community with Seoul Gaels GAA club,” he said.
South Korea has been lauded internationally for managing to significantly slow the number of new cases of the virus, despite an early spike. Last week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Ireland was following the South Korean model for tackling the coronavirus outbreak.
“The worst day we had was 909 new cases in a single day (February 29th). For the past fortnight, the number of new cases daily has been either double digits or one-hundred and something,” he said.
“The most noticeable thing here is that absolutely everyone is wearing a mask. There’s hand sanitizer in the elevators of people’s accommodation, in bars, restaurants, gyms etc. Most cafes, bars and restaurants are running as usual. Schools are closed until April 6th at the moment, but there’s a chance that could be extended. The streets and subways are quieter than usual, though by no means dead. Many people have to go to work as normal, so life goes on,” he said.
The Government has set up separate test centres and even ‘drive-through’ test centres to try to test efficiently and try to keep the pressure off hospitals. They have a number for foreigners to call (1339) if you’re experiencing symptoms/think you may have the virus.
“I recently went east to do get out of the city and do some hiking in Seoraksan National Park – when I arrived back in Seoul, we all had our temperature taken as we got off the bus. Same when I go to the gym, must have a mask and have temperature taken before I can go in. Before my school moved to online learning, there was a thermal imaging camera installed at the school entrance to measure staff and students temperature as we arrived each morning,” he said.
Last month he travelled to Thailand for a family wedding after obtaining permission from his school.
“At the airport in Bangkok, we were put on a bus to a separate building to have our temperature taken before being allowed to go to the arrival hall. Temperature checked again at the reception of the hotel in Bangkok, and again at the wedding itself (only the foreigners: non-Thai). Temperature checked again upon return at the airport in Seoul,” he said.
“The consistent message is to wear a mask, wash hands frequently, avoid non-essential travel and social gatherings.
“We also get SMS messages to say when there’s been a case near where we’re living – you can even go to a website to see that particular patient’s recent movements: what subway line they were on, where they got on/off, where and what time they stopped for lunch etc. Unbelievable transparency,” he added.
Any advice for people back home in Donegal?
“Try to take it a day at a time. Stay safe and look after yourself. I have to say, I was impressed by how quickly the government acted back home. However extreme some of the measures may seem, it seems critical to step in early and try to nip it in the bud. Hopefully that’ll help us avert the kind of nightmare some countries in Europe and now the States are facing,” he said.
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