The USA has now surpassed China in the number of Covid-19 cases. Meanwhile, case counts and deaths are mounting in Italy, Spain, France, and Germany. To keep a check on the growing Covid-19 cases, most of the countries across the globe have imposed lockdowns and sealed international borders. In fact, more than 3 billion people around the world are currently under lockdown including more than a billion just in India. Trillions of dollars have been wiped out from the markets, and we are heading towards a recession if things do not improve soon. However, amid these alarming trends, South Korea has emerged as a sign of hope. The country has managed to flatten the curve without any lockdowns.
South Korea has shown the world that it is possible to contain this virus without closing down the economy. However, experts are still not sure whether this model can work for other nations as well.
The South Korean Strategy To Deal With COVID-19
South Korea saw the surge in Covid-19 cases from the end of February and early March. From a few dozen cases, the numbers were suddenly in thousands. On February 29, the healthcare workers confirmed 909 new cases. However, less than a week later, the number of new cases reduced to half, and then within four days, it further reduced.
Unlike Europe and America, they were the first to declare coronavirus as a national emergency. Although the country did not follow the ‘Chinese-style lockdown’ strategy and neither have they closed their international borders. However, it is one of the only two countries alongside China, which had a massive outbreak and still managed to flatten the curve of new coronavirus cases. President Moon Jae-in announced that they would only make a full-scale effort to contain the spread, and there would be no regional cordon.
South Korean measures include tracing and testing potential carriers, restricting all large public gatherings, and utilizing the country’s medical and financial resources with help from military and police. Here are the steps that Seoul took to contain the spread of the coronavirus-
Step 1- Transparency
There has been complete transparency in sharing the information on the new coronavirus cases in the country- where, when, and how infections are being discovered. Within the first week of the first case that was diagnosed in January 2020, the government officials met many pharmaceutical companies. The companies were instructed to develop a large number of coronavirus testing kits.
Although the cases remained in double digits within the first two weeks, thousands of testing kits were shipped every day. South Korea is now producing 100,000 kits per day. Emergency measures were immediately imposed in the city of Daegu with a population of 2.5 million where there was a rapid spread of the virus through a local church.
Step 2-Mitigation And Containment
The country started with the process of containment right from when the first case was identified in China in December’19. The focus was laid on identifying the infected people and isolating them to avoid further spread of the disease.
The emphasis has been laid on lowering the peak of the number of infected cases through social distancing campaigns that were immediately launched after the outbreak of coronavirus in the country. This is how they managed to control the community spread. Although all schools are closed, and no public gatherings are allowed, however, no city has been put under lockdown.
Step 3- Testing, testing, and more testing
The primary weapon to deal with this deadly infection is the diagnosis and large-scale screening along with walk-through and drive-through testing centers. With a daily diagnostic capacity of more than 15000 people, the testing centers have been working round the clock tirelessly.
In the drive-through testing centers, patients are tested without them leaving their cars. People are given questionnaires, a throat swab, and a remote temperature scan. The complete process takes only 10 minutes, and the results are out within a few hours.
There is persistent public messaging that urges the citizens to go for testing if they or someone they know have any symptoms. The international visitors have to download an app that helps them to do self-checks for coronavirus symptoms.
Hotels, offices, and other large buildings in the country are using thermal image cameras to identify people who have a fever. Besides that, many restaurants are also doing temperature checks before accepting the guests.
The country has tested far more people for Covid-19 than any other country, thus enabling them to isolate and treat more people as soon as they are infected.
Step-4- Implementing The Triage And Treatment System
The country is using the triage and treatment system that was developed during the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in 2015. This included five isolation hospitals that were created for severe and critical cases. The mild and moderate cases are being sent to a network of community hospitals. They have also revamped gyms, hotels, and residential centers for creating new hospital beds.
The lessons learned from the MERS outbreak came in handy, and as a result, there is no confusion among the public about the drill that they have to follow during an epidemic.
South Korea Continues To Win The Battle Sans Lockdown
Coronavirus cases in other countries continue to soar in large numbers, putting unprecedented pressure on their health care systems and economies.
With the death toll across the globe crossing 20,000, experts across the world are analyzing South Korea’s model for lessons. The measures though not very easy; however, they relatively appear to be affordable and straightforward.
The swift action and extensive testing and contact tracing along with good support from citizens have helped South Korea to sail through this crisis so far. Dr. Tedros Adhanom, head of the World Health Organization, has urged other countries to apply the lessons learned in South Korea.
Although the officials caution that the success of South Korea’s measures to tackle Covid-19 could be tentative. The risk of resurgence is still there since this pandemic continues to spread like wildfire across the globe.
We can only hope for the best. Till then, stay safe!