South Korea has been globally praised for its response to the on-going pandemic, with fewer than 80,000 cases and 1,500 deaths a year on from its first reported case. But how did the east Asian country achieve this?
South Korea’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been praised across the world.
The country was able to build on its experience of handling the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and was therefore able to flatten the curve without having to enforce the stricter measures like other high-income countries until late 2020.
The country achieved this by developing clear guidelines for the general public, in addition to supporting those having to quarantine and conducting comprehensive testing and tracing.
Outbreaks in March and August were successfully managed while a larger December 2020 outbreak was also eventually dispersed.
South Korea was able to find success in a three-phase response framework: detection, containment and treatment.
Detect – The country built innovative screening facilities and worked closely with the private sector to provide an adequate supply of tests.
Contain – Those infected were supported through quarantine and contacts were thoroughly traced. Hundreds of officers were deployed for tracing efforts, and were allow to use an array of data sources, such as credit card transactions and closed-circuit television footage. While no doubt efficient, this does raise many private security concerns. This was effective as culturally Koreans are more tolerant to personal data-sharing than other countries.
Treat – The health system surged to meet the demand and across the country the hospital system was restructured accordingly, in addition to temporary hospitals being built.
The country was well positioned to deal with such as crisis following its flawed response to the MERS outbreak in 2015. After the MERS outbreak, the government made 48 reforms to boost public health emergency preparedness and response.
Furthermore, South Korea has a well-functioning national health system, in addition to sufficient human resources, infrastructure and constructive relationships between key institutions.
The suite of tools at the country’s disposal and effective strategies enabled allowed South Korea keep COVID-19 at bay by managing outbreaks while not harming the economy; which cannot be said by many of its peer countries.
Despite the many differences South Korea has to its peers, aspects of the country’s response are worthy of analysis, from its decisive and data-driven leadership, strategic focus (testing and contact tracing), investments into preparedness and willingness to innovate.
Information for this article has been sourced from a recent article from OurWorldInData.org. For more information, read the full article here: https://ourworldindata.org/covid-exemplar-south-korea