We’re continuing our series on how different countries are responding to COVID-19 by taking a look at South Korea this week, a country that has become a role model for the rest of the world in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
Long before the East Asian nation became South Korea, Japanese and East Asian troops invaded the Korean peninsula to control the region. Subsequently, Korea chose to isolate itself for almost 250 years beginning in the 17th century, living in peace by avoiding the outside world. Today, the peninsula encompasses two countries: North Korea and South Korea. In South Korea, nearly half of the population lives in Seoul, the country’s capital. South Korea announced its first COVID-19 case on January 20, 2020, and it seems it was better prepared than most countries to manage the virus. The reason? South Koreans already experienced a pandemic: In 2004, the MERS virus prompted the government to set up contact tracing, a method used to trace how and where a virus spreads from one infected person to another. The South Korean government was then allowed to monitor its citizens’ movement so that if an infected person visits a restaurant, for example, authorities can trace the people they might have infected.
South Korea took immediate measures to contain the virus and treat those infected with COVID-19. Here are a few highlights of their response:
Data collection—The ability to collect information about people’s movement and contacts means that authorities can quickly limit the spread of the virus. Does collecting data on people’s movement work in all countries? Not always. Many countries have strict privacy and data protection laws that prevent the government from accessing such records.
Elections—Even in the middle of the pandemic, South Korea managed to hold a national election, where almost 29 million people participated. President Moon Jae-in’s democratic party delivered a landslide win with more than 99 percent of the votes!
Strict guidelines—South Korea’s government kept strict quarantine measures in place for nearly two months. In addition, authorities devised convenient walk-in booths to test everyone throughout the country. That said, a recent spike in coronavirus cases could put South Korea back under stricter rules until authorities are confident that the virus’ spread is being managed.
As of May 13, 2020, South Korea reported more than 10,000 cases of COVID-19 and approximately 260 deaths. President Moon says, “It’s not over until it’s over. While keeping enhanced alertness till the end, we must never lower our guard regarding epidemic prevention.”