중앙데일리

Foreign English teachers epicenter of new flu cases

May 26,2009
The number of confirmed influenza A(H1N1) infections in Korea jumped to 22 over the weekend after the nation’s health authorities discovered that a group of 15 English teachers recruited from abroad by a private language institute in Seoul have caught the virus.

This is the first group to contract the disease in Korea. Until now, the handful of domestic cases involved travelers either returning or transiting through the country.

As a result, the Education Ministry yesterday ordered every education office to provide information on the number of foreign teachers who entered Korea after May 11 and report by 5 p.m. if anyone is currently showing flu symptoms. The ministry also made it mandatory for teachers who have just come from Mexico, the epicenter of the flu outbreak, and the United States to not start work until after seven days of arrival. Those affected include teachers at private language institutes as well as those who teach at public elementary, middle and high schools and universities

As of Saturday, the number of confirmed domestic infections totaled 10, including six teachers from the language institute. On Sunday, health officials confirmed that another 11 patients - including eight foreigners from the language institute and three Korean children from New York - had caught the new strain of flu. One more infection from the institute, a 24-year-old American male, was confirmed yesterday, according to the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A 28-year-old female who departed from New York and arrived at Incheon International Airport yesterday morning via Japan was classified as a “presumed patient” and was under further testing as of yesterday afternoon. She and the 18 newly confirmed patients were hospitalized.

Chungdahm Learning, a Kosdaq-listed firm that runs two private English-language franchises, recently recruited some 70 new teachers from eight countries including the United States and Canada.

The new recruits stayed at the same residence in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul, during a training period from May 16 to 22. They were supposed to be dispatched to the company’s branches nationwide after the training.

The company, which serves 60,000 elementary, middle and high school students, said in a regulatory filing yesterday that it temporarily shut down its branches yesterday and will keep them closed until June 2.

A spokesman for Chungdahm Learning said the institute did all it could, claiming it checked the temperatures of the teachers and sent them to local public health centers for further checkups.

But the disease control center, which operates under the Health Ministry, found that the company continued the training sessions as recently as last Friday even though some teachers have started showing symptoms of the flu. Those teachers also hung out in public spots each day after the sessions.

“It seems the institute didn’t have any idea how serious the situation was,” Jun Byung-yool, head of the center, said in a press briefing. “If the institute knew the United States is one of the countries with the flu outbreak, it should have taken every necessary preventive measure with the teachers.” Jun said he is considering mandating temporary suspension of private language institutes where teachers test were found positive for the new influenza.

The first domestic outbreak of the latest strain of flu occurred on May 2. Infetions hit three but stayed at that number from May 7 until May 19, when health authorities found another case.


By Seo Ji-eun [spring@joongang.co.kr]



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