On January 30, 2020, the WHO (World Health Organization) declared the COVID-19 pandemic as a public health emergency, in which worldwide governments and organizations were in the obligation of taking steps regarding their population’s public health. Among the countries that gave an outstanding response related to this sanitary emergency, we have South Korea. They managed to control the transmission and reduce pandemic damages, flattening the epidemic curve without collapsing health services.
We must point out their effective work in post-pandemic times to fully understand the country’s successful policies, and this will help us to fully comprehend how they got their current development level. Below, we will mention some of the strategies taken to contain the virus in the country.
First of all, we must mention that a year ago, before the appearance of the virus outbreak, South Korea dealt with the MERS epidemic (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), which resulted in the institutional reform of the health system for handling infectious diseases, creation of a protocol with several levels of intervention in epidemics, and legislation on the use of private data in health emergencies, allowing greater adherence by the population to various tools. This negative experience also induced the production of such technologies as the implementation of drive-thru clinics and a culture of the use of surgical masks in the country.
On January 20, 2020, the first Coronavirus case was registered in Daegu, two-thirds of the infections were related to the religious group “Shinchonji Jesus Church;” the authorities made Covid tests to more than 200.000 followers of this cult and isolated the infected. The quick response with the PCR tests in Korea was one of the keys, they were able to analyze 20.000 people in a day, more than any other countries. This test was free and four private companies paid by the Korean government guaranteed the sourcing kits. In the same way, they created a network of public and private laboratories in all the country, they also took care of hiring and training more epidemiological intelligence officers, research and development related to infectious diseases, including clinical trials and support for vaccine development, through National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID).
Taken from the artist: Julia Koblitz (unsplash)
Other measures: Social distancing campaigns, suspension of social meetings, virtual study and work, investment in the disinfection of common areas, mandatory quarantine for foreign visitors, mandatory use of masks, penalties and fines for violation of measures, among others.
Undoubtedly, a key strategy was to be able to identify each of the infected people and those who they had contact with to isolate them, and identify the places they resorted, without isolating healthy people.
In the first instance, with the increase in cases and the difficulty tracing contacts manually, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport implemented an integrated surveillance system to do this activity automatically in collaboration with the KCDC and the Ministry of Science and Technology. A preexisting data platform for intelligent cities was adapted, combining data from the National Police Agency, three telecom companies, and 22 credit card companies, culminating in the COVID-19 Intelligent Management System, a support system for epidemiological investigation, which reduced the tracing time to less than 10 minutes.
With this strategy, the MoHW also developed a cellphone app to monitor potential patients, with threats of legal penalties to reinforce the limitations on movement. The Ministry of the Interior and Safety provided an app to monitor self-quarantine and assess contacts’ health conditions. Nevertheless, this system had problems regarding privacy and data use in response to public health problems, so they identified a better public deal to avoid the collapse of the social support systems.
Taken from the artist: Victor He (unsplash)
South Korea adopted a set of compensatory and social protection measures aimed at decreasing the economic impact of COVID-19 and guaranteeing the maintenance of citizens’ livelihood. This a set of fiscal measures included credit guarantees and emergency support for families and tourism, export industry, and strategic companies.
There were emergency subsidies in the form of coupons and cash to stimulate private consumption. There was also a budget outlay focused on job creation; emergency loans to companies in financial difficulties; also the Korean New Deal Project intervened, in which the country planned to create 1.9 million new jobs and invest 133 billion of dollars by 2025, with a focus on digital and “ecofriendly” projects. The country adopted measures to reduce workplace exposure to COVID-19 with the publication of a protocol and stimulus for flexible arrangements (home office and flexible hours, among other measures).
Likewise, income support was established for sick workers and their families, for people that had lost their jobs or income from self-employed work, stimulus for companies to adjust the work schedules and protect jobs and financial support for those suffering a reduction in consumer demand, as well as suspensión of tariff payments, including electricity bills.
In conclusion, the practicality of the systems adopted by Korea showed their good government cooperation and a real concern for the health status of its population by national entities. We were able to see how existing tools and those created especially to attack the virus gave a positive response, and they didn’t allow the fall of their health system or their economy. Definitely, we and our countries’ governments can learn many things about South Korea’s execution in this historic period in favor of a better quality of life for our communities.
Taken from the artist: Antonio Janeski (unsplash)
References / Bibliography:
- Thais Regis Aranha Rossi, Catharina Leite Matos Soares, Gerluce Alves Silva, Jairnilson Silva Paim y Ligia Maria Vieira-da-Silva. The response by South Korea to the COVID-19 pandemic: lessons learned and recommendations for policymakers. University of the State of Bahia, Salvador, Brazil 2022.
- BBC News “Coronavirus: South Korea’s successful strategy to save lives amid the covid-19 pandemic”: https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-51838817
- BBC News Youtube: https://youtu.be/UqdIoCjy1CM
- South Korea: an example of the taken of decisions during the pandemic: https://youtu.be/QFs63FwSQaI
- Additional information “How did Korea make to contain the coronavirus pandemic”: https://youtu.be/eXEtcUgkj1Q
Written by: Luisa Méndez
Reviewed by: Andrea Ramírez