South Korea Bridge

South Korea Lead In Coronavirus Control

James Kouzinas James Kouzinas
Blog | May 26, 2020

The last couple of weeks have been difficult to absorb. There’s been so much change, so quickly, it’s been hard to process. Turning on the news each morning and seeing each country’s elected leaders grapple with the most up-to-date data on COVID-19 has been eye-opening.

Australia, Europe and the US are struggling. It appears that perhaps they’ve acted too late in establishing appropriate measures and subsequently enforcing these measures, in an effort to contain the deadly virus, despite countries like China and Korea providing them with adequate data points, which act as a blueprint on what to implement.

Now, I understand that each country has its own set of challenges, with everything from culture to population influencing government action, but if we step back and solely look at the numbers, it’s hard to ignore the success South Korea is having at containing COVID-19. So impressive is their success, the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is now urging other countries to

apply the lessons learned in Korea and elsewhere

They are also receiving praise from a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Scott Gottlieb, who stated that

South Korea is showing Covid-19 can be beat with smart, aggressive public health.

People may be sceptical – as we’re in the age of information/idea manipulation – however the numbers don’t lie. What’s even more impressive is the fact that South Korea haven’t restricted speech (like China has), or implemented measures, which have caused significant economic damage.

Just last Sunday, South Korea reported a staggeringly low 64 new cases. Remember, this comes at a time when states within Australia are jumping up by the hundreds. If we jump back in time, to February or March, South Korea had an explosion of new coronavirus infections, with these months showing a jump from approximately 24 to several thousand. With that context, when we look at 64 new cases, it leaves me asking a simple question – how have they been so effective in flattening the curve?

There are four pillars to South Koreas COVID-19 strategy.

Fast intervention

It only took one positive COVID-19 test to spark action in the country’s government officials. Within one week of the positive test, they started urging medical manufacturers to begin developing testing kits. Within two weeks, thousands of these kits were shipping every day. Looking at the US and parts of Europe, a lack of testing kits has been a major issue.

Another great example of their fast intervention was seen after an infection broke out through a local church in the city of Daegu, which has a population of 2.5 million people. Here, emergency measures were immediately put in place, a decision, which locked the city down and stopped further spread. 

Test often

Testing is central because that leads to early detection, it minimizes further spread and it quickly treats those found with the virus

Kang Kyung-wha, South Korea’s foreign minister, told the BBC, calling the tests

the key behind our very low fatality rate as well.

I’ll once again look at the numbers – South Korea has conducted more than 300,000 tests. If we look at this number on a per-capita rate, it’s more than 40 times that of the United States.

Their thought process around testing was as calculated as it was clever.

  • They established drive-through testing stations, so people could be tested quickly, without leaving their car, an action that also kept hospitals free. What’s equally impressive is that the test results were back within a few hours.
  • Testing was readily accessible and the government urged its citizens to get tested.

Large commercial buildings and hotels used thermal image camera to spot people with fevers – everyone played their part.

South Korea Coronavirus Testing

Trace

Health workers were relentless in tracing the recent movements of anyone who tested positive. This allowed them to isolate and control the virus before it could spread any further. Like something out of a Sci-Fi movie, health officials used various data points to trace the infected individuals, pulling this data from credit cards, car GPS, cell phones and even camera footage.

As the virus grew, they stepped up their efforts by deploying apps, which vibrated when new cases were discovered and alerting people to the potential danger in their area.

You’re probably thinking that this is major breach of privacy, but South Koreans, broadly speaking, accepted it. The threat of COVID-19 was so high and potentially devastating, they opened up their lives to the government, to fight it – I’m not sure such measures would work in places like Australia, but the effectiveness of such action can’t be denied.

South Koreas fatality rate throughout this crisis is a touch over one percent, making it amongst the lowest in the world. Hospitals have been kept clear, lives have been saved and for the most part, panic has been subdued. 

Ask the Public to help

A problem every country is experiencing during this pandemic is the shortage of health workers. There simply aren’t enough people to monitor everyone. According to the vice health minister, Mr Kim, the country’s leaders kept the public adequately informed and encouraged them to help, and help they did.

It became engrained in every day South Korean – adopt social distancing, wear facemasks, wash hands and check your phone for alerts.

South Korea at Night

Conclusion

I’m not sure where we go from here…my best guess, we go into full isolation until the curve starts to flatten, a measure that will need to be enforced by governments around the world.

Whatever happens, let’s not forget about our frontline workers (all those people that have to continue working during these strange and difficult times – these people are exposed every day to a highly contagious virus and often, don’t have the required equipment to protect themselves adequately. 

 

James Kouzinas

Co-Founder

Nebula Ventures

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