Almost all the countries across the world after the coronavirus pandemic opted for a partial or total lockdown to stop the spread of deadly virus, South Korea stay strong and is being held up as a model of how to tackle the disease without having to shut down the economy.
Seoul, on Thursday, announced 101 new cases of COVID-19 infections— the 20th day in a row when infections have grown at a rate of less than 150 people per day – a marked change to late February, when the country saw 909 infections in a single day.
Unlike Italy and Spain, where cases rose rapidly and that also in the countrywide lockdowns, South Korea never forced a curfew or halted its masses from going to work. Instead, the country managed to stabilize the infection rate flattening the increasing rate curve.
By doing this, the country’s comparative success has concerned attention from across the world as a classic model.
According to reports, Germany is reportedly trying to imitate South Korea’s approach in combating the virus, while a foreign ministry official of South Korean said on Wednesday that the country had received requests from 121 other countries to help them test for the virus.
Among the countries of world, right now, the burning question is that how did South Korea tackle the pandemic? And that accomplished without the lockdown. Would its approach work for rest of the world?
Here’s we’ve reached on the various clues that the country and its citizens have followed.
The authorities in the country reacted quickly to reports of the spread of coronavirus in nearby China.
Just one week after the country reported its first case on January 20, South Korean government directed labs to start producing coronavirus test kits and within two weeks, the country was producing more than 100,000 test kits a day.
In comparison with the US, which had detected its first case on the same day as South Korea, failed to react as quickly.
The mass production of tests endorsed the government to successfully test significant parts of the population for coronavirus, constituted over 600 testing centers and making testing easy and available.
This mass of data availed through testing gave the opportunity to the authorities to monitor the proliferation of the virus and treat those with it.
So far 169 people have died from COVID-19 in South Korea, while amazingly 5,828 have recovered. In contrast, over 13,000 have died in Italy and over 10,000 people have died in Spain.
The country also used lessons learned from the 2015 MERS outbreak, which killed 36 people. Rather than rely on people with symptoms volunteering to be tested, authorities took a proactive action which helped identify cases without symptoms which may have otherwise gone on to spread the pandemic further.
Transparency and public information
As part of the drive to get people tested, authorities made information about the spread of the virus public.
Public information campaigns began early, and experience from MERS meant that many South Koreans were familiar with wearing a face mask and practicing good hygiene.
The government sent texts out to residents informing them when a case was discovered nearby and allowed access to its tracking data.
“The government has been very transparent. It has announced all the cases in the country and shared information about which areas they are in and where they traveled to, and which restaurants or malls the person went to,” explained AlAtoli.
“Residents have access to a live map where they can see all the information on a live tracking system. They track people via their credit card and CCTV to see exactly where they have been,” she added.
Transparency and cooperation
The authentic information from the media allowed both governments and citizens to act effectively and responsibly to slow the spread of the virus. The authorities did not enforce lockdown in the country.
Avoiding imposing a blanket ban, South Korean government utilised the data collected to restrict movement of people only where it was necessary.
Many citizens chose to self-isolate themselves, and using the tracking data, they could also see which public spaces were high-risk areas for infection and should therefore be avoided.
The global effect
Government of South Korea did not impose lockdown resulting its economy in running, in contrast to many of the other major world economies.
This policy has placed South Korea in a decent position economically for surviving the global economic slowdown while other countries in lockdown have been paralyzed.
Risk from travellers
Despite South Korea’s relative success in halting the coronavirus cases, the country still faces risks of the virus re-emerging in larger numbers – such as the travellers importing the virus back into the country.
With its airports open, traveling to South Korea is comparatively easy in comparison to countries which have tried to seal off their borders.
To counter the risk of travelers from abroad spreading the virus, authorities announced on Wednesday strict rules for anyone arriving from abroad, including a mandatory two-week quarantine.
The actions so far seem to be working given the country’s stable and relatively low number of new daily cases of COVID-19.