South Korea: A Covid-19 success story
From the time of the initial outbreak of Covid-19 a year ago, South Korea has been a leader in the control of the spread of infection and the resultant death rate.
At present (18 January 2021) the country has had 72,729 cases reported and 1,264 deaths. With a population of 51.71 million people, that represents 24.4 deaths per million. One of the lowest on the planet.
How did they achieve this?
Much of the low rate of spread was voluntary. People stayed home or away from others once they had seen the results of the experience in Wuhan, China.
government put in place rigorous and extensive programs for testing and contact
tracing using rules allowing the use of phones and credit cards to determine
prior movements of people. This is unlike many western nations where people are
more concerned with “privacy” issues than with national health emergencies. But
the South Korean programs have probably been the most responsible for the
containment of the virus along with the support of the population.
From top to bottom then from left to right: a queue in front of a pharmacy in Wonju for the distribution of masks, a drone of disinfection in Seongnam, a closed elementary school in Daegu, protest inscriptions against Shincheonji on a car, video call between members of the South Korean government, manufacturing of masks in Busan, 2020 South Korean legislative election, admission of a symptomatic patient to a hospital in Busan, portable medical negative pressure isolation stretcher in a fire station in Hoengseong, firefighters' training in Daegu, thermal camera at the entrance to Wonju hospital, temperature check at Incheon International Airport, drive-through testing in Gyeongju.
Testing numbers have been estimated a 26 to 120 times higher than in other countries in the first few months of the pandemic. Innovative drive-through centres were opened to facilitate people getting tested quickly and efficiently.
Anyone thought to have been near to infected individuals were alerted, prompting immediate testing. Travel into and out of the country was discouraged. Once identified with the virus those infected were required to go into isolation in government shelters.
There was no general lockdown of businesses but there was early closure of schools and other facilities where people would normally gather in large numbers, such as gyms and movie theatres. Major sporting activities wee allowed to go ahead in April with no fans in the stands. Easing of restrictions was only done when information about the rate of infections was better known and could be controlled.
Through April 2020, daily increases in the number of new cases were kept to single digits.
Even with the higher numbers in south Korea’s third wave of infection, the number of new cases is still well under any other country of similar size. Canada, for example, has had 18,014 deaths to date, or 479 per million people. We average over 6,000 cases per day, over 10 times the number in South Korea.
Ongoing testing, distribution of information and cooperation of South Korea’s people have combined to allow the country to manage the pandemic very well.