Even before I got a visit from the Gu-office social worker with bags of goodies, the very morning immediately after our arrival, my husband and I each received a confirmation text message that our corona virus test returned negative. We were both so healthy and both of us felt so fine that there was no doubt that we would test negative, but Korea mandates covid tests on every single person who enters the country for free, so we were just following the protocols.
What was more impressive about the whole procedure was just how fast they delivered the results. I think we went for the test around noon-ish on the day of our arrival. We got our results texted to us by 10 AM the next morning; within 20 hours of taking my samples. This was very different from my experience in Bangkok.
In March in Bangkok, I felt severe migraines, along with some temperature (not very high but still something like 38.5 degrees Celsius), and I was coughing quite often. So I decided that I should go and get myself a COVID test for the peace of mind for my family and my coworkers (at the time, there was no lockdown in Bangkok, so everyone was going into the office). So I called Sami***** (one of the best hospitals in Bangkok) to schedule an appointment to get a COVID test. They told me that the location near my home does not have a specialist on duty, so I need to go to one that is quite far away from me, about 30 minutes drive without traffic.
When we got there, we gave them our insurance cards, and I explained to them that our insurance policy covers for COVID tests and we were checked in. They asked us to wait in the negative pressure room. There was literally nobody else in the hospital other than staff and us.
The negative pressure room was basically a freezing cold room (I think about 18 degrees Celsius). Mind you, we were in Bangkok, where the average temperature of the year is 35 degrees Celsius, we were dressed appropriately for 35-degree temperature, not 18 degrees. They made us sit in that negative pressure room for about 20 minutes and my nose started to run. It wasn’t like there was anybody else in there. Why was it taking them so long? So I went out to ask when they will see us because I’m freezing cold. The nurse who was right outside of the door was doing something on his cell phone and then looked at me and then just walked away. (seriously?)
And about 10 minutes later, some lady came in, dressed to look like an astronaut and told us to open up LINE (messaging app) on our phone. (She was taking this long because she was getting herself dressed into this astronaut suit.) We were very confused but we followed instructions. When we opened the app, we were instructed to be connected to a doctor, a specialist who was on duty. And she asked us about why we think we want to take this test. So I told her my symptoms and told her that my husband was with me 24/7 for the past 4 days, so we think we should both take the COVID tests. So then she proceeded to ask about our health insurance and told us that the health insurance may not cover for our tests, and if they don’t, then we must pay for our tests on our own. She also told us that each test cost about THB 7,900 (approx. USD 252.65), so for the two of us, it would cost almost THB 16,000!! (Mind you, average salary in Bangkok is about THB 20,000. So when most people hear the price tag, they are deterred from taking the test. Further, the national health insurance did cover for the cost of the exam, only if the test resulted “positive.” If it was negative, then you were to pay back the cost of the test.) So when I showed an email from my company HR, which said that our insurance policy covers for COVID test, she was convinced that we would be able to afford the test and decided to proceed.
The nurse in the astronaut suit proceeded to open one of the sterilized test kit and then the doctor said, “wait. Your insurance may not cover for your treatment at our hospital. Your insurance card mentions Sami*****-S******** but not our location. Let’s not do the test here, and you should go to S******** or the Bum******* because these are the hospitals mentioned on your insurance card.” What… we were sitting in this freezing cold room for about an hour and at midnight, you tell us that you don’t want to do the tests for us? So they charged us THB 500 for simple consultation and the astronaut suit that the nurse put on. But no COVID test. The comedy of the story was that the astronaut nurse closed the “sterile test kit” back and put it away. I really hope that she didn’t mean to use that test kit in the future for someone else.
So the next afternoon, we went to Sami*****-S********. They knew we were coming in for a COVID test. And when we got to see the specialist, the same spiel. The doctor asked us about 7 times whether we really want to take the test and that it is really expensive. So we said yes. She agreed to test me but not my husband. Why, you ask? She said that if my test results positive, then he will have to take the test anyway, so he should wait until then. Anyway, so I was finally able to take the COVID test, and I was told to wait 3 business days to obtain the test results. The hospital will call me. Until then, I am to quarantine at home. I am NOT to leave.
The day I was able to get the COVID test was a Wednesday. So I figured I would be getting my results by Friday or Saturday. Anxiously waiting for the results in quarantine, I called the hospital on Friday to see if the results were in but they just didn’t get around to calling me yet. Nope. They said I have to wait until tomorrow. So Saturday morning comes around, I was so anxious to get out of quarantine, so I called the hospital again. They said “due to the high demand of the corona test, we cannot process your test and you have to wait until Monday. We will call you then.” Seriously??!?!?!?!?!!!! I was so frustrated! I was basically held hostage in my own home for six days because I was stupid enough to take precautionary measures to go to the hospital and take the COVID test. You know, because that is the prudent thing to do.
Monday, the hospital called me to notify that my test result came out to be negative. I was so frustrated with the whole process.
Compared to this, Korea provides FREE COVID tests and results turnaround within 24-hours to all people with risk. This is truly a commendable process.