The COVID19 virus is all over the news. Though it began in the Chinese interior in Dec. 2019, South Korea is again in the news for an outbreak, as if on cue re-earning its sometime-nickname of the Land of Extremes. S.Korea has racked up more confirmed COVID19 virus infections (called in Korea “Corona19,” 코로나19), by a considerable margin, than anywhere outside the epicenter around Wuhan.
I have a few things I’d like to say related in some way to this latest big virus panic and/or to Korea’s place in it, in descending order of how long ago:
(1) My observations on what’s going on around me now with regard to the virus panic;
(2) China’s soft-power problem; COVID19 as a potential serious a blow to China’s image/prestige;
(3) S.Korea and the negative influence of the Shinchonji group [신천지] (my experiences with this group, which is definitely a cult by popular understanding of the term, date to 2014; second-hand as early as 2012; the experiences were through no fault of my own, as they use front groups and all manner of deceptions to get in contact with people, effectively like an intelligence agency);
(4) My memory of the MERS virus panic of June 2015 that hit South Korea.
I’ll do these in succession in separate posts, starting with the last and most distant, the MERS virus panic of 2015 (2015년6월의 메르스 바이러스-감염병 위기).
I remember “MERS” well. What’s strange to me is how few others seem to, or their memory of it as something minor. I doubt it made the news much at all in the US.
Here we go with this MERS memory post.
The MERS crisis as I remember it:
What I was doing in Korea at the time.
I am going to let the memories flow here, a little, because why not? (Edit: And not just why not, I realized in writing this that my strong memories of MERS are partly because of my own position. I was not a hermit or sitting somewhere discouraged and cut off from the world, as I have been at certain other times. I was very engaged and eagerly observing everything I could.)
I was in South Korea for most of 2015, at that point mainly trying to improve my Korean, working a little, trying building my network.
The trajectory I was on, which would have me in graduate school back in the US the next year, had begun with a fateful decision to return to Korea in spring 2014, which set me on the path I’ve roughly been on since, for better or worse. (It’s not clear at all to me that it has been for the better, but this is the way things turned out for me.)
The great strides I made in Korean, over the small gains I’d made living there for three years earlier, were only because I forced myself to do it full-time. I was determined. I wish I’d been as determined, re: language, when I first showed up in Korea a few years earlier.
In the early part of the 2015, I was still enrolled in full-time Korean courses at Yonsei University (Songdo campus) (연세대학교-한국어어학당), which were all-day, exhausting, and somewhat old-fashioned, one of the easy-to-find little examples of how Korea doesn’t really live up to its sleek, ultramodern image many came to hold in the 2000s and 2010s.
A large majority of students were PRC-Chinese, and their average age must have been early 20s. I went in with some degree of skill and sailed through Level 1, but failed Level 2 on my first attempt and failed Level 3 on my first attempt, and nearly failed on the second. (The failure rate was up near 50% for any given student in any given semester; it was rare to pass two levels successively, and only one student I heard of did it, a Malasyian-Chinese.)
The way Yonsei ran the show, I became a better writer than speaker, which is probably not ideal but does probably fit with my temperament anyway. (After all, I am willing to put in the time to write multi-thousand-word posts like this, but probably couldn’t sustain such things in spoken conversation. I like the discipline of writing.)
I was living in a box-like goshitel [고시텔], in Incheon’s Guwol district, near Incheon Bus Terminal and going in to class every day to the south, on Songdo Island, a curiously empty place given that this was hyper-dense South Korea.
Working memories in 2015 Korea
Among a few things I was doing to make money during this time, I had a part-time job in Bucheon, which I’d gotten I think in Sept. 2014. I can’t recall how I was connected with that place but it must have been through a Bucheon contact and so if I had to somehow create a list of candidates I could. It was a small mom-and-pop hagwon, though I never saw any sign of any ‘pop,’ just the ‘mom.’ I’d lived in Bucheon from Sept. 2011 to Sept. 2013, maintained strong ties there through the end of 2015, and still maintain weak ties there still to the present (granted, many more ‘memories’ than ‘ties’ now). That job was nothing special. I think it was never more than a few hours of one day a week, sometimes two.
(Sorry for this long aside about a past part-time job, but there is no outside editor here and these memories that are coming to me as I write. I’ll continue this reminiscence until it runs of of steam; will get back to MERS soon.; if you want to skip directly to MERS, ctrl-f for “Then all of a sudden, in June 2015, MERS.” Maybe this reminiscence about the 2014-to-2015 Bucheon job could one day get its own stand-alone post).
When hagwon teaching goes well, it can be fun and/or rewarding in some way. Some of the early entries at this blog may give a window into that. That’s what I remember about that place; I was in and out and as a pure outsider I wasn’t subject to the internal politics. The place would have had a very different feel than Avalon (2011 to 2013) had, given that this hagwon was multi-subject and much smaller. A hypothetical full-time experience there would have been a dice-roll on what the boss was like.
I remember being proud of myself for getting through a half-hour interview with the boss (원장님), a middle-aged Korean woman who clearly enjoyed running the place. She was re-creating, with this little hagwon on part of one floor of a building in a decently-developed area of Greater Seoul, the communal-village-spirit of old , with her as matriarch.
The boss had heard I spoke Korean, which was, by Sept. 2014, a generous way of putting it. She conducted the interview entirely in Korean. I’m not sure if she realized I only followed about half of what she said. Fortunately, the custom in Korea is mainly listen to the elder/superior. Maybe she assumed I was understanding a lot more than I did.
I think that job ended by February 2015, as did my time at Yonsei in Songdo, by my choice, as it had gotten too hard. I had reached Level 4. (The next year I would score a solid “Level 4 [of 6] on the TOPIK exam, and I made a point of not ‘prepping’ directly for that language-ability test; had I done so, I probably could’ve crossed into Level 5.) With my student visa expiring on the last day of Feb. 2015, I had to leave Korea. I went to Japan for two weeks. I had never been before. Japan is really a great place to travel, let no one tell you otherwise.
Building ties to Seoul;
I came back to Korea after two weeks rolling all throughout Japan with an unlimited rail pass. I moved to Bupyong and made the decision to tie myself to Seoul. That may be a retroactive justification, and I think my immediate thinking in March 2015 was to try out a Korean-language hagwon as a student.
In April to August, I was at a Seoul Korean-language hagwon, as a student. At that time I think it was Ganada, which is an old one. Ganada may be the original hagwon that taught Korean to foreigners back in days of yore of the 1960s and 1970s. (The next year I would have a hand in founding a hagwon not far off, also in the Hongdae area; it is still going as of late 2019; strange the opportunities life has in store, if you are open to them.)
As the months of 2015 rolled on, I was busily observing things with a keen eye trying to maintain and expand social ties, trying to make something of my time in Korea and make up for lost ground.
My Korean level was good enough by this time to really engage with the society without the filter of English, which is an important factoid in the June 2015 ‘MERS Panic’ story I will soon get around to.
I was having a great time. I was friendly with the others at the hagwon, other students that is, who were natural language partners. Ganada had a good reputation in Japan and a fair number of the students were from Japan, many more than at Yonsei, where I don’t think I had any Japanese in any classes. Japanese have a serious advantage with Korean and it is both intimidating and remarkable to observe how fast they can acquire Korean. The two languages’ grammar are almost identical, among other similarities. Any Japanese inevitably percolates up the levels quickly. I was a serious and determined student, and many of them were hobbyists with theoretically much lower levels, but their big inner-track put us in the same classes.
I think my driving goal at this time was to feel I really understood Korea and to be able to deal with Korea on my terms. This was a major personal goal that defined a part of the 2010s for me. To that end, things were going well. I had lived there for some years but often in unfavorable and lonely circumstances. The darkness of past years was now behind me and I had achieved something I didn’t think I was capable of, some degree of proficiency in Korean.
Some of my posts from 2015, in the archives of this blog, will no doubt give some feel for what I was doing at the time, even though I have generally never used these pages to journal day-to-day activities. I remember in this period also noticing other foreign English teachers who were whee I was a few years earlier, feeling isolated and alone, stuck, pessimistic, disliking most things about like Korea, wanting to leave. I saw my earlier self in them and helped them out.
So I was both optimistic, feeling I was making progress of some kind, and ingesting as much information around me as I could.
The Arc to Graduate School
Reading this self-appraisal written five years later, it’s no surprise that I was well on course at that point towards my late-2010s graduate school career. Even if I didn’t know the specifics yet, the puzzle was putting itself together. In Dec. 2014, I took the GRE for the first time, still in Korea, in an obscure (to me) part of Seoul, somewhere down in the nether-regions of off-main-street Gangnam. I remember arriving early but being puzzled why the building appeared locked-up and everything dark. Somehow an adjeosshi, who must have been the building manager, was hanging around and must have seen people make this mistake before. “These buildings changed names a few years ago; the testing center is over there [motioning down the street].”
By Dec. 2014, I was not organized enough yet to apply for the Fall 2015 intake anywhere; the deadlines tend to be Dec. 31 of the previous year for the Aug./Sept. intake the next year, and I sure wasn’t ready for that. I remember the feeling that I had more to accomplish in Korea before I “pulled the trigger.” I also worried about money, naturally. The delay was really the right decision, because in 2016 is the year I would make truly great strides in Korea and put me in a far better position by Sept. 2016 for the in-earnest, formal start of my Korea Studies ‘career,’ such as it is/was (I am conflicted on whether to use the present-tense or past tense).
So that is a sketch of what was going on with me in early 2015, before MERS hit.
Oh, and I was also regularly tutoring, through about mid-2015, someone who lived and worked on the far side of Seoul. By May 2015, we were meeting at one or another coffeeshop near Konkuk University (건대).
In general terms I was busily observing and building ties, open to opportunities, and aggressively language studying. I was really interested in what was going on around me.
Then all of a sudden, in June 2015, MERS.
The June 2015 MERS Panic
What is my general memory of MERS? Life-as-usual was majorly disrupted. It was surreal. I think ‘surreal’ is a good word.
It was a true panic, like something resembling a war panic. In fact, I can confidently say that MERS caused a much greater panic in South Korea than anything North Korea did in the 2010s that I ever observed.
Given my strong memory of the MERS crisis/panic, and my close observation of developments at the time (in line with my self-description here as someone highly committed to studying Korea/Korean at this time), I have found it strange how few people seem to remember it. Had MERS made that weak an impression on them? When I have brought up MERS to foreigners who were living in Korea at the time, or even to Koreans who were there, few seem to have a particularly strong memory of it. Responses tend to belike this: “Oh, yeah, I think I remember that.” That’s it. MERS faded from memory, fast, and things went exactly back to normal.
The Virus Enters Korea
This is how I recall the narrative: In May 2015, a S.Korean businessman was off on a business trip to one of the Arab countries. He visited a camel farm while there. One of the camels was carrying the MERS virus, which had recently mutated to be able to affect humans with a deadly kind of flu. The man picked up the virus and returned shortly thereafter to Korea via Incheon Airport.
Korean authorities were not on the lookout at the time for MERS, a rare virus never seen in Korea before. They didn’t realize they had such an outbreak to deal with until it was too late. From this one man, who was without symptoms on arrival back in Korea, came many infections and deaths, with several hospitals hard hit.
The MERS Panic as I remember it
When they announced exactly what was going on, a social panic began. I remember it well. I remember the sudden proliferation of masks; Koreans don’t normally wear surgical masks; some Asian nationalities you sometimes see in stock photos do, but I’ve never known Koreans to do so. Suddenly, there were masks everywhere on the subway and often in public.
I remember empty streets, restaurants, cafes.
I remember the blanket media coverage. There were no other stories in the news during the MERS crisis; it was, again, like media coverage of an ongoing war in which your country is involved.
This “blanket media coverage” is definitely true with COVID19, too, and not just in Korea. It all seems like an overreaction, especially in retrospect after the crisis passes and people are embarrassed to remember indulging in the panic themselves, That must have been those other people, not me. I think this must be a part of why no one remembers MERS, a psychological defense. (Kind of like no one in the US who was of age in 2002-03 wants to admit they believed in the “Iraq WMDs;” after it was revealed it was all a hoax, everyone says they were skeptical all along; MERS was not a hoax, but the psychological defense mechanism at work may be similar.)
I paid attention during MERS because I am a news-follower by inclination and had, by spring 2015, gotten good enough to kind of follow the news, and was on a mission to learn and observe as much as possible.
(A small aside on the Korean language and media coverage of the COVID19 panic. I like the Korean language, but have always been annoyed that their news so heavily uses Chinese-origin words otherwise not used at all, among other things that make Korean news and other formal Korean writing inaccessible without studying a parallel language which we might call ‘News Korean.’ (The easy analogy is Latin; what if you had to know Latin to read the US news?) Despite great strides in Korean and the ability to function socially without problem, I have always been discouraged by the sight of a newspaper, a glance at which has been known to sometimes induce feelings of inadequacy and language-pessimism. I’ve spent this long on this language and I can’t even make any sense of these headlines?
But! One thing I notice about the COVID19 “coronavirus” panic of early 2020 in the Korean media is, Wow, hey, I suddenly understand everything. What the heck? Have I gotten better without realizing it? No, I’ve certainly gotten worse since my peak. It’s that the Korean media has dropped, at least for crisis purposes, the silly convention of making the news deliberately hard-to-understand to maintain its dignity, or something; this is a delightful little observation and footnote to the COVID19 “coronavirus-19” panic in Korea I am glad I am recording here.)
What else do I remember about the MERS panic?
I remember schools closing, led by children’s hagwons, which were compelled to do so when parents demanded it and threatened the hagwons financially; one after another closed and then the hagwon associations began to say they were all agreeing to close for a certain period during the virus crisis.
I remember for a long time after MERS being sore that I’d lost out on potentially a nice little sum of money. Yes, MERS cost me money. I had an offer, through a Bucheon teacher I knew named Elaine (actually kind of a co-manager of a certain hagwon there), to fill in for a foreign teacher who had just left. I wanted that income, but with the hagwons closed, it definitely was off the table. I think after they reopened, I was able to do a week or a little more there. (I think it was also sometime around this time that, under money pressure, I sold my 1.5 Bitcoins for rent money. In mid-March 2015 after returning from Japan, I moved to a spacious one-room I found in Bupyong, not far west of my old home of Bucheon. My friend Mike P., also of Bucheon in those days, now of Texas, was storing my things and helped me move. The selling off of those 1.5 Bitcoins was unfortunate in that it lost me potentially quite a bit of money in profit I could’ve had by the timethe Bitcoin price later spiked from $500 to $20,000.)
The empty streets. The panicked news on TV and on Naver and newspapers. It was headline news every day for a while, not so different in scope than the current COVID-19 panic is in Korea, even though COVID-19 has infected many more, mainly via the Shinchonji cult.
I have a distinct memory of Gwanghwamun Square [광화문] completely empty but for one person (two people, if you count me, the observer). That was surreal. The lone person there was an anti-US protestor, who, as usual, held up a sign with anti-US slogans written in Hangul. It was about how bad the US military is and it called on them to leave. (I don’t recall the specific of his sign, but they’re all like that.)
The US embassy happens to be at Gwanghwamun, but given that the anti-US protest signs were seldom in English, these guys’ intended audience was clearly other Koreans. (Every now and then their signs would have English, and I noited that the tone would be somewhat different. Similar groups are also active in the US, as I have seen them in the public area behind the White House at Lafayette Square; their English phrasing is always softer than the Korean phrasing.)
(The groups behind the anti-US protests are still going. I saw the same kind of signs — that is, made by the same graphic design team or copied from the same style — and the same kinds of slogans in 2019 in my time in Korea, in the same area. They are from an important wing of S.Korean domestic politics which is fairly labeled the Nationalist-Left and is pro-North Korea to some degree. They have more often been an influential, extraparliamentary pressure group than a formal political force with competitive parties and candidates. They were also hugely empowered by the takedown of Park Geun-Hye in late 2016.)
(If remembering back to 2015 is the name of the game here, I remember an incident in early March 2015 in which a fanatic motivated by anti-US feeling, a fringe member of the anti-US Nationalist-Left wing of politics, managed to get access to and slash the goofy US ambassador, Mark Lippert, in the face.)
(Tangent on Ambassador Mark Lippert; why I grew to resent him. Ambassador Lippert recovered quickly. He had, prior to the slashing, made a deliberate habit of going out on jogs and to get coffee and things, unescorted, because he was so sure Koreans loved him and that there were no possible dangers. I learned about the slashing from a b.1945 Japanese man [he told me the year he was born] whom I got to talking to while milling around Kumamoto Castle during my visit to Japan. The man seemed to say, “Koreans can’t be trusted, they’ll stab you in the back!”)
(While I sympathize with Amb. Lippert’s wounding and am glad he recovered, in my time I grew to resent Lippert.Why? It was because he “played the clown” for Koreans. The latter seem to already have a tendency to believe that all White Americans are clowns, are kind of morally unserious people, so Lippert’s playing-to-stereotype was seriously unhelpful.)
(Lippert was kind of an ambassador equivalent to the “hagwon-monkey” archetype, the foreign teacher who figures out he can get cheap laughs by playing to stereotype and who clowns around much more than he need to, or ought to. [It’s possible to be an effective, fun teacher without being a clown, in the sense I mean it here; but playing the clown is low hanging fruit in a hagwon, and many will do it.])
(I doubt Lippert knew much about Korea, as he was a political appointee by Obama. Yeah, he learned on the job, you’ll say. Alright. But here is something else: Lippert had terrible, just terrible, Korean language skills, which is okay except that he kept flaunting his Korean, on TV and in tweets and so on. Why would he do this? He was supposedly popular with Koreans, but then I suspect plenty of the white hagwon-monkeys are popular, in a sense, if they play to stereotype.)
(To use an analogy, I grew to see Mark Lippert as a kind of minstrel-show performer. I resented him because, upon reflection, I saw his antics as helping himself in perhaps a narrow sense but hurting the rest of us, hurting me and others like me, White Americans trying to make a serious go of things in Korea. I mean, and I say this with confidence: I am sure plenty of Koreans thought, “Wow, look, even their ambassador acts like this; that must be really their true character after all; somehow it is that these people have global power and money, but we ought not take them too seriously. I mean, look at them.” This is an attitude that I often observed.)
Flashing back to MERS now. I don’t know what US Ambassador Lippert was up to during the MERS crisis in June 2015, but he couldn’t have been too far off when I was at Gwanghwamun that day in the middle of MERS. There was almost no one at all in the area where normally there’d be dozens, hundreds, thousands, depending on how wide a net you want to cast.
As for the anti-US protestor. He was in front of the King Sejong Statue. I think I have a picture of this guy somewhere but don’t want to look for it. My memory tells me that he, too, was wearing a mask, the surgical kind people believe blocks viruses; the kind that, with the current COVID19 panic, become quasi-mandatory in public in Korea in Feb. 2020, and probably will be well into March.
Towards the beginning of the MERS panic, I was given a mask myself, while on a visit to Bucheon. A teacher named Amy K. gave it to me. I somehow had brief contact with Amy K. via Facebook messenger recently, after long losing contact via Kakao, in late Feb. 2020. I asked about this mask-giving, to confirm my memory. She said she remembered it, she remembered giving me the mask. (Amy K. says she is highly concerned about the COVID19 virus now and sometimes wears two masks at once these days.)
I remember being skeptical about the real risk of MERS to me, but seeing the social panic setting in gives pause to anyone. When ongoing person-to-person transmission was confirmed and announced, there began a drumbeat of media coverage about the risks of a MERS epidemic in Korea. In coming days, confirmed cases began mushrooming and people began dying, but I think they were largely limited to hospitals.
For whatever reason, I couldn’t bring myself to wear a mask. I wore the one Amy K. gave me for a grand total of about 30 seconds, to take a picture. I think I uploaded that picture as my KakaoTalk profile picture, just for fun. I even remember where I took that picture. It was in front of the Byzantium building in Bucheon. I think there, too, I remember fewer people being out than would be normal. I put the mask in my pocket, where it stayed, eventually discarded.
On socially conditioned fear, during panics like MERS
I mentioned above I was doing paid tutoring at this time and that the location was set to near Konkuk University. It was a Business English thing. I remember passing by Konkuk University Hospital (건대병원) in eastern Seoul before one of the tutoring sessions. I passed right in front of the hospital. I cannot confirm this but I think the hospital had been closed by the government to stop the spread of the virus. Or maybe that was another hospital. What I am sure of is that hospital had MERS victims and had been spotlighted in the news that week.
Passing by Konkuk Hospital, one of the MERS flashpoints, I remember feeling a weird kind of emotion, an uneasiness akin to an excited fear. I don’t know that I can explain it. Was it something like the feeling of being at the rear of an active battlefield, no immediate danger but you know people are dying at the front. Maybe that’s not the right description. But I do remember an uneasy feeling passing by a hospital that had been in the news for several MERS virus infections in the past days.
It reminds me of another case. In 2002, there were two snipers on the loose in the Washington DC area, shooting people at random, at a rate of up to one every few days for several weeks. It turned out the sniper was actually a Nation of Islam member who wanted to extort money. But no one expected that. I don’t know where it came from, but they put out the idea that the shooters operated out of a windowless white van. This was announced in the media. Beware the White Van. Fear the White Van. People began to be afraid of those vans. I think I remember being openly skeptical of the “white van” theory to other students in our school-bus and school-bus-stop discussions on the snipers and who they might be. But even I, skeptical though I was, started to be afraid of white vans. I remember it. We were conditioned to. There was no threat from white vans and never had been.
This white van panic of 2002 is not a perfect analogy to the MERS panic of June 2015 S.Korea, though there are similarities. In both cases, people were dying, which is a key similarity. In certain ways, I do think the nature of the emotional reactions is comparable.
Another time I recall a similar, fear-like emotion I have no proper word for was getting up the nerve to enter to the North Korea pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai, May 2010, early in my time involved with things Korea-related; it was manned by North Koreans. The pavilion was dedicated entirely to their state-cult and the military (the two hardly separate, conceptually, by the late 1990s and since). It may seem silly that I was afraid to go into the pavilion, but I was. I was alone. It took two or three ‘attempts’ to go in. It wasn’t fear in the proper sense, fear of some imminent danger, not the fear that comes if you are confronted with a grizzly bear while out hiking. It was a socially conditioned response, like the white vans in fall 2002, and in many ways like MERS in S.Korea in 2015.
The end of the MERS crisis and its legacy (or lack of legacy)
I don’t remember churches suspending services (which many have with the COVID19 panic in Feb. 2020), but I do know for sure they suspended communion for a few weeks.
And the coffee shops being almost deserted — if there is one sign something is wrong, it’s if Seoul’s coffee shops are empty.
But then, in time, MERS passed. They successfully dealt with the outbreak and new transmissions stopped. The masks began to disappear.
I’d say the MERS crisis made no lasting impression outside the domain of medical specialists. It killed a small number of people, and it totally dominated the news, but on the whole the dead were people already sick and/or elderly, the most at-risk to die in any case.
Several years later, as of 2019, I still saw signs at the airport warning about MERS. They included cartoon representations of camels. My memory tells me the big MERS placards were in Korean, English, and Arabic. So that is another legacy.
Why do I remember MERS so vividly and others don’t seem to? I speculate on one reason above, that people don’t want t o admit they panicked over something that passed in due time with relatively minimal real damage.
Another thing: Maybe the fact that the panic hit so hard, once the news switched over to All-MERS-All-The-Time mode, that it ironically left little real impression because everyone stayed home. People form memories by being out and doing things, not by being at home.
I was in a place in life in which I was determined to observe and learn as much about Korea as I could, something like what anthropologists do, and so went out of the way to observe, which is probably why I remember it so well. Most people used MERS as a chance to hunker down. They all experienced the crisis and were probably worried about it at the time, but the memory faded and it all must seem like a dream. It well could be that COVID19 ends up the same way, as panicked as many are today.
Will the Coronavirus-19 (COVID-19) panic pass and be forgotten, like MERS?
I am not in Korea as I write this. I think what I’ve written above about MERS Crisis memories is roughly comparable to the situation in Korea today with COVID19, except that the scale is larger this time (so my own memories/observations should be scaled up accordingly) and the COVID-19 virus is much tamer than MERS was (the latter leads to the former, the tameness of the virus ironically creates a worse social panic because it allows the virus to spread further).
So will COVID19 be ‘forgotten’ like MERS was, by 2025? I’d say it probably will be. Or at least given the amount of panic and disruption going on, it will be remembered in much softer terms than the panic around it now would suggest, with offices closing and people being asked to work from home, hagwons closes (like MERS), and much else.
As an example of the panic-induced disruption, the RASKB (Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch; locally called “RAS”), a group I feel a special bond to as I have been an active member for several years, announced earlier this week that that it was canceling all its events to the end of March.
From Feb. 24:
In view of the ongoing health crisis we feel that we should not do anything that would bring people together at the present time. We have decided to cancel this week’s Lecture and the Colloquium
From Feb. 27 (the RASKB Newsletter for March 2020):
While hoping for the best, it seems unlikely that an end to the spread of the virus will come quickly. Following the general pattern, that means that the RAS feels obliged to suspend all its activities until it is considered safe for people to come together again in churches, schools, museums and libraries. Please understand that for the moment we have no idea when that might be. As an initial measure, we will not be offering any activities before the end of March, unless it is deemed safe to offer (say) an open-air walk wearing masks toward the end of the month. We must wait and see.