Most economic activities never stopped. No part of the country was quarantined. Quick response with systematic testing, rigorous quarantine and civic engagement are the keys to the government’s success. As the number of new infections drops, the country is closer to getting back to normal.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – For many experts, South Korea’s approach to the coronavirus outbreak is a example to emulate. Often contrasted with China’s restrictive model, which has inspired democracies like Italy and the Philippines, the South Korean model has quickly produced positive results.
Worldwide, the COVID-19 virus has to date infected more than 473,000 people with more than 21,300 deaths. To cope with the emergency, some governments have locked down entire cities and closed their borders.
South Korea adopted a different strategy to control the disease, one called TRUST: Transparency, Robust screening and quarantine, Unique but universally-applicable testing, Strict control and Treatment.
Since the emergency began, most economic activities have never stopped and no part of the country has been quarantined. Now, as the number of new cases declines, the country seems on the right track to getting back to normal.
In South Korea the outbreak began on 18 February. Rapidly, the caseload multiplied 180-fold in two weeks, with daily growth topping 909 on 29 February. Starting on 6 March, the number of new cases dropped to two-digit figures.
During this initial phase, South Korea was second in infections after China, but thanks to its strategy it is now ninth.
With yesterday’s 104 cases, the country’s total infections now stand at 9,241, this according to the Korean Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), the 15th consecutive day of decline.
Overall, 132 people have died from the virus and 56 are in critical condition. Some 4,966 people are in hospital and 4,144 have recovered. Now concern has turned to imported cases, which have risen from 30 to 131.
Four factors have contributed to South Korea’s success. First of all, the speed with which the government reacted to the first signs of the outbreak.
The authorities learnt the importance of preparedness the hard way from the 2015 outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which infected 186 and killed 36
After reports about an unheard type of pneumonia came out of Wuhan (China) on 31 December last year, the KCDC set up an emergency team three days later to examine the situation.
The government announced the country’s first case of contagion on 20 January. A week later, government officials met with representatives from several medical companies, urging them to immediately develop coronavirus test kits. The companies now produce enough diagnostic kits to test 135,000 people a day.
According to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, 47 countries have asked to import South Korean kits; another 39 have requested them as humanitarian aid.
Systematic testing is the second factor in South Korea’s success. Since the start of the outbreak, the authorities have set up 118 laboratories and 633 testing sites, including pop-up facilities and drive-through clinics. Since 20 January, South Korea has tested 364,942 people, i.e. 1 South Korean in 200.
In addition to mass testing, tight quarantine measures also helped slow the spread of the virus. The government set up dedicated facilities for patients at different stages of the disease to reduce the burden on hospitals.
Since then, hotels and dormitories have been used as makeshift wards and quarantine sites for patients with mild symptoms or suspected of infection under centralised observation.
The authorities track, isolate and monitor each individual case using various technological tools.
South Korean mobile phones vibrate with emergency alerts whenever new cases are discovered in their districts.
Websites and smartphone apps detail hour-by-hour, sometimes minute-by-minute. People who believe they may have crossed paths with a patient are urged to report to testing centres.
People ordered into self-quarantine must download another app, which alerts officials if a patient ventures out of isolation. Fines for violations can reach ,500.
Finally, South Korea brought the fight COVID-19 under controls because of the way the authorities enlisted the public’s cooperation.
South Koreans’ sense of civic duty and their patriotism helped, and the government nurtured it with a video titled ‘Korea, Wonderland?’ on its YouTube channel.
Some sociologists also note that the administration of President Moon Jae-in has distinguished itself above all for its clear and timely information. All this has promoted civic awareness and voluntary cooperation, boosting collective efforts.