As other countries hurtle toward disaster, South Korea looks like the safer and smarter place to be. So what can other governments learn about how to handle coronavirus?by Jean H Lee / March 27, 2020 / Leave a comment
South Koreans are an unabashedly social people. They live and work in close quarters and love to eat family-style. They’re among the world’s biggest drinkers, and sharing shot glasses is part of the etiquette. The communal joie de vivre is a big part of what makes South Korea so vibrant.
That density and the propensity to socialise are also dangerous breeding grounds for a contagion like the coronavirus. And it may be why Covid-19, first detected in South Korea on 20th January, spread quickly one February weekend, jumping from 30 confirmed cases to thousands in a matter of days. For a time, South Korea had the largest number of confirmed cases outside China.
But South Korea—where “bbali-bbali,” or “fast, fast,” is a mantra—wasted no time in mobilising government officials, scientists, medical personnel and its people to confront the challenge, employing technology as a public health tool in an aggressive campaign of testing, tracing and tracking. After two intense months, South Korea appears poised to “flatten the curve.” While South Koreans are not yet taking their masks off—clusters of infection continue to crop up—there is hope that the country has turned a corner.
As the pandemic spreads, South Korea serves as the vanguard for democracies weighing transparency against privacy as they harness technology to fight an outbreak that has depleted healthcare systems, battered economies and overturned daily life. Seoul’s transparent and comprehensive approach stands in contrast with China, which concealed the outbreak and then locked down cities to contain it, and nations in the west that were initially slow to act.
Ever since confirmed cases began cropping up, disinfecting crews have been blanketing South Korea’s trains, subways and crowded public plazas. The government is pushing out mobile phone alerts with details about confirmed cases and spots visited by those who tested positive; apps alert users when they are near potentially infected sites. Residents showing symptoms flock to drive-through stations and mobile booths for quick, cheap tests, getting the results by text within hours. Those testing positive receive health kits with masks, sanitiser and other supplies; investigators interview them for details about where they have been and who they have been in contact with, requiring those in self-quarantine to provide regular updates via an app. All the information is uploaded…