By Yeon Woo Lee (‘21)
It’s official: the United States has officially become the country with the most reported confirmed cases of COVID-19. COVID-19 has been around since December of 2019, starting in the Wuhan province of China. Since then, it has spread throughout the world, severely impacting the countries of South Korea, Italy, and Iran. Italy has been frantic in its shutdown, with the death toll overtaking China’s. On the other hand, South Korea has been able to control its cases to a certain extent. As a result, countries are starting to look towards the model that the South Korean government has set up in this crisis.
The reason that South Korea was one of the first countries to be heavily impacted by COVID-19 was due to the Shincheonji Church, a religious cult centered in the city of Daegu. When one of the church members was infected, they had still come to the church as absence due to illness is not accepted by the cult. From this, the disease quickly spread throughout the city and the country.
The government took quick action once the number of confirmed cases grew exponentially. However, unlike Italy and the United States, South Korea has been able to slow the number of cases without shutting down every aspect of life. One of the reasons why they have been able to flatten the curve is through widespread testing. While some nations are slower to test suspected patients and are lacking in the supply of tests, South Korea has been able to test over 316,000 as of March 20, 2020. South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha has stated that the country had been able to quickly test because they had started developing test kits in January, a month before the crisis hit hard. This is how South Korean citizens have been able to get tested in 10 minutes and get results back by the next day. Setting up drive-in stations, the country has been able to test 15,000 to 20,000 people a day.
If a patient tests positive for COVID-19, the government quickly releases the locations that the patient has visited, to help prevent others from possibly picking up the virus in those locations. This method has not been practiced in the United States, however, due to the issue of privacy. Patients in quarantine are tracked through a government GPS enabled app and will go off if they go outside in South Korea.
With its quick actions, South Korea has been able to slow the spread of COVID-19, but also avoid a complete shutdown of the economy.