South Korea’s coronavirus response is the opposite of China and Italy – and it’s working

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Medical staff members wearing protective gear take samples from workers at a building where 46 people were confirmed to have the COVID-19 coronavirus, at a temporary virus test facility in Seoul on March 10, 2020. - South Korea, one of the worst-affected countries in the coronavirus epidemic outside China, on March 10 reported fewer than 150 new cases for the first time in two weeks. The rise in infections took its total to 7,513. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)
  • Seoul’s handling of the outbreak emphasises transparency and relies heavily on public cooperation in place of hardline measures such as lockdowns
  • While uncertainties remain, it is increasingly viewed by public health experts as a model to emulate for authorities desperate to keep Covid-19 in check

For weeks, the graph charting new cases of Covid-19 in South Korea rose in a steep line – a literal illustration of the rapid, seemingly unstoppable spread of the coronavirus. Then the line began to curve.

After announcing 600 new cases for March 3, the authorities reported 131 new infections a week later. On Friday, officials reported just 110, the lowest daily toll since February 21. The same day, the number of recovered patients, 177, exceeded new infections for the first time.President Moon Jae-in, while cautioning against premature optimism, has expressed hope that South Korea could soon enter a “phase of stability” if the trend holds firm.

With about 8,000 confirmed cases and more than 65 deaths, it was until recently the country with the most confirmed cases outside China – but South Korea has since emerged as a source of inspiration and hope for authorities around the world as they scramble to fight the pandemic.

As countries ranging from the United States to Italy and Iran struggle to manage the virus, Seoul’s handling of the outbreak – involving a highly coordinated government response that has emphasised transparency and relied heavily on public cooperation in place of hardline measures such as lockdowns – is increasingly viewed by public health experts as a model to emulate for authorities desperate to keep the virus under control.

Whereas China, where the virus originated, and more recently Italy have placed millions of their citizens on lockdown, South Korea has not restricted people’s movements – not even in Daegu, the southeastern city at the centre of the country’s outbreak.

Instead, authorities have focused mandatory quarantine on infected patients and those with whom they have come into close contact, while advising the public to stay indoors, avoid public events, wear masks and practise good hygiene.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in visits the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on March 11. Photo: EPA
South Korean President Moon Jae-in visits the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on March 11. Photo: EPA

And while numerous countries have imposed sweeping travel bans – including the US, which has introduced dramatic restrictions on travel from Europe – Seoul has instead introduced “special immigration procedures” for heavily affected countries such as China, requiring travellers to undergo temperature checks, provide verified contact information and fill out health questionnaires.

“More than a week of downward-trending case counts shows that the approach in South Korea has turned around an epidemic,” said Ian Mackay, a virologist at the University of Queensland, Australia. “This approach seems less dramatic and more usable by other countries, compared with that used in mainland China. If these trends continue, they will have managed to stop the growth of their epidemic.”

Read more : SCMP


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