On Wednesday, Hubei province where the outbreak emerged saw the daily death toll double to 242 and the confirmed cases per day increase tenfold to 14,840, dashing the hope that the virus might be contained soon with the number of people with the virus stabilizing. The new cases and deaths have pushed the national death toll to 1,355 with almost 60,000 infections in total.
China’s public health authorities explained it was a result of changing the definition of the disease to include suspected patients with mild symptoms, an adjustment made to treat them in early stages. Chinese media have been accusing the Chinese government of covering up or under-reporting confirmed cases and deaths in Wuhan for the last two months since the virus broke out, which is why the Chinese authorities’ belated response cannot help undermining the credibility of the figures presented by them. In addition, the increase in the death toll cannot be explained by the new definition. Some argue that the Chinese medical system has already broken down.
Against this backdrop, South Korea has been caught off guard as Chinese students are coming back for spring semester. As of last April, there were approximately 71,000 Chinese students studying in the country. The Ministry of Education ordered universities to closely monitor the situation and advise students self-quarantine for two weeks, but universities still do not have any effective measure in place. According to the ministry, 9,582 students had arrived from China between January 21 and February 3.
Most universities have decided to delay the start of semester by two weeks and use dormitory rooms as quarantine facilities for Chinese students, but this is hardly realistic. Some of the universities have more Chinese students than the capacity of their dormitories while South Korean students are being forced to clear out their rooms. Moreover, it is impossible to monitor foreign students who are renting private accommodation. Education Minister Yoo Eun-hye asked 17 cities and provinces to accommodate Chinese students in government facilities on Wednesday, which should have been done much earlier.
Many raise concerns that, if the virus spreads in universities, it would paralyze the lives of tens of thousands people who operate the community. When it comes to Covid-19, neither excessive fear nor complacency is good. The outbreak presents a truly difficult challenge for us – We should be ready for the worst case scenario while carrying on with our lives to minimize economic ramifications.