April 27, 2020: Posted by Mohamed Kahna
South Korea is receiving praise from the international community on the coronavirus control front. After a peak in infections at the end of February, the South Korean health authorities managed to turn the tide thanks to the deployment of all-out measures.
In South Korea, which has a population of 51.4 million, the number of people cured daily of Covid-19 has surpassed the number of new contaminations in the last fortnight. For 105 new cases, 222 recovered patients left the hospital on Sunday. Out of a total of 9,583 confirmed cases, only 152 deaths were reported.
The mortality rate linked to the virus is one of the lowest in the world, around 1.6% of the cases recorded, compared to an average of 4.4%. The reason? A solid medical infrastructure: with 12.3 beds per 1,000 people, the country ranks second in the world behind Japan (13.3 beds) and well ahead of France (6) or the United States (2.8), according to OECD data. And an active testing, tracking and treatment policy that is bearing fruit is making the country an example to follow in the face of the pandemic.
1. A massive screening campaign
South Korea has tested 394,141 people since January 20, when Covid-19 was first detected on its soil. Currently, nearly 20,000 tests are being carried out every day, a record. They systematically target people from abroad and the relatives of infected patients.
2. Priority to cluster detection
The health authorities have focused on controlling the outbreaks of infection at an early stage, including the 210,000 followers of a religious organization located in Daegu, 300 km southeast of Seoul. Good news: about 60% of the country’s cases of contamination were linked to this church.
3. A colossal test production capacity
With the experience gained during the SARS (in 2003) and MERS (36 deaths in the country in 2015) epidemics, the South Korean pharmaceutical industry was able to rapidly develop and manufacture reliable diagnostic kits. SD Biosensor produces 350,000 kits per day. Nearly a hundred countries have expressed their interest in these “made in Korea” kits.
4. An office dedicated to infectious diseases
Following the MERS epidemic, a department was created to provide an immediate response to this type of contagion. Legislation on the management and sharing of data on infected patients was relaxed to make it easier for the department. It now makes it possible to send SMS alerts to warn of the presence of a case nearby thanks to a tracking system via surveillance cameras, GPS geolocation and credit card transactions.
5. Innovative measures
About fifty “flying test” centers have appeared on the territory. Motorists can be tested from their cars in less than 10 minutes. Another new initiative is the installation of forty test booths at Incheon International Airport in Seoul. Similar to telephone booths, these facilities allow medical staff to quickly and safely screen passengers behind a transparent protective panel.
6. Control of imported infections
As of today, any traveler with a temperature above 37.5°C is prohibited from boarding to South Korea. In addition, Seoul imposes a two-week quarantine period and screening test on all long-term arrivals from Europe, even if they do not show symptoms. Those from the United States are required to self-isolate for a similar period.
7. Strict quarantine measures
The authorities have announced that they are applying “zero tolerance” to those who do not comply with self-isolation or quarantine rules, warning that violators could face a fine of 3 million won (€2,220) or “deportation” for foreigners. Currently, 4,398 patients are quarantined in government facilities.
8. The wearing of the mask anchored in cultural norms
Like their Asian neighbours, South Koreans are used to putting on a mask to protect themselves from pollution and not contaminate others in case of infection. Nevertheless, in the face of exploding demand, the daily production of 12 million masks, which is four times higher than the estimated production in 2019, remains insufficient.
9. A rationing system
To make up for the shortage of masks, Seoul has set up a rationing system: each Korean can buy two per week in pharmacies on a specific day, defined according to the year of birth. This has stabilized supply, reduced queues and prevented trafficking.
10. Empowering citizens
While Beijing has imposed movement restrictions on the 11 million inhabitants of Wuhan, the birthplace of the new coronavirus, Seoul has invited residents of the most affected areas to isolate themselves voluntarily. As soon as the virus appeared, the government provided daily figures on the progress of the epidemic. The authorities also called on the population to avoid any gatherings without locking down the cities. Instructions were strictly adhered to, as more than 160,000 South Koreans joined in voluntary activities to fight the coronavirus.