DAEGU, South Korea -- Daegu is South Korea’s fourth largest city, it is home to two and a half million people, famous for its apples and COVID-19. It is the epicenter of the country’s growing novel coronavirus outbreak. It is also, perhaps, a model for how other cities and towns in the free world might try to deal with the virus.
There is no panic here; no rioting, no fearful mobs opposing the housing and care of hundreds of infected patients in their city. Instead there is a stoic calm and quiet. Most businesses and stores are shuttered. All schools are closed. Most people stay at home.
The city has been declared a “special management zone” but there’s no total lockdown. People can leave Daegu and go out to walk their dogs or get their groceries and they do. The city streets are surprisingly busy. But there is worry here, people are concerned, perhaps a little fearful.
People queue patiently for face masks that are in desperately short supply. We watched a man calmly ask doctors at one of the city’s coronavirus hospitals when the ambulance would come to collect his sick father. Soon he was told. Go home and wait your turn.
In the hour or so we spent at the Keimyung University Dongsan Hospital we saw nine ambulances arrive, driven by paramedics in hazmat suits. Each one was carrying an infected patient. Each ambulance was then hosed down with disinfectant and the cabin fumigated before being turned around and sent out again. The hospital has a 240 bed capacity. It currently has more than 200 patients. They all have COVID-19.
The director, Dr. Cho Chi-Heum, says no hospital could be prepared for an outbreak like this. He is worried for his staff and needs more of everything; doctors, nurses, medicine and beds. He is also determined to overcome, “I think this hospital is the Noah’s Arc to save Daegu citizens”.
He has one last message to the world before he turns back to the twenty-four hour task of saving lives here.
“This is not a very bad infection” he insists.
Yes, it is highly contagious. The rate of infections will likely get worse before it gets better but he reminds me that more people die in Korea and America from the flu and that no one is too scared of that.
Daegu may be the model for life for many of us in 2020 where living with COVID-19 is the new normal.
This report was featured in the Feb. 24 episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.
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