South Korea remains on top of things in times of Covid-19 crisis

Its strict social distancing and enhanced quarantine measures have helped flatten the curve of infection while containing the spread of the disease

by NUR HANANI AZMAN/ pic by BLOOMBERG

SOUTH Korea has remained the forerunner in the fight against Covid-19 as the country impressively continues to report single-digit new Covid-19 cases daily, with only eight recorded last Thursday.

The country’s strict social distancing campaign and enhanced quarantine measures have helped flatten the curve of infection while containing the spread of the disease, Yonhap news agency reported.

The nation’s total infections to 10,702 marks a drastic drop from Feb 29 peak of 909 new cases, according to the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The authorities said the nation’s death toll from the Covid-19 rose by two to 240 and the overall fatality rate reached 2.24%.

The figure, however, reached 23.5% for patients in their 80s and above. South Korea confirmed its first Covid-19 infection on Jan 20.

Several measures contribute to South Korea’s success include extensive testing for the disease and a national system for promptly and effectively tracking people infected with Covid-19.

From drive-through kiosks to hospitals and local clinics, hundreds of test sites are available across the country, and they are largely free.

For the elderly or those too ill to step out, medics would visit their homes to take swabs for testing.

South Korea’s traumatic experience with the 2015 outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) had taught the Koreans that infection to medical staff would sap the ability to control the virus as infected citizens in hospitals turned them into hotspots for infection.

As a result, the Korean government has ensured that proper personal protective equipment (PPE) will always be provided to avoid infection to the medical staff.

They also created physically separated testing and treatment sites for healthcare workers.

By the time the World Health Organisation issued its plea in mid-March 2020 for countries to “test, test, test”, South Korea had spent weeks doing just that, quickly developing the capability to test an average of 12,000 people — and sometimes as many as 20,000 — a day at hundreds of drive-through and walk-in testing centres, The Guardian reported.

The mobile centres conducted the tests free of charge within 10 minutes, with the results being sent to people’s phones within 24 hours. By mid-March, more than 270,000 people had been tested.

The country saw the largest outbreak outside the Middle East, with 186 cases and 36 fatalities.

Samsung Medical Centre, which is located in Gangnam District, was the main facility affected by the virus.

Head of the Gangnam District office in Seoul, Jung Soon-kyun said the district government learned to build up an infectious disease response manual and store the necessary equipment after going through the MERS outbreak. “We are trying to respect infectious disease response manuals which prioritise early detection and testing.

“The patient was living in an apartment and we had all residents in that apartment building tested for the virus,” Jung said in an interview with the Korea Times last Monday.

The Korean government last Tuesday said it will extend social distancing for two more weeks, but it has partially eased the rules conditionally allowing churches, bars, gyms and cram schools to resume operations.

The country even held parliamentary elections. Even though there was no lockdown in South Korea, it did, however, close its schools. The country had postponed school openings twice. South Korea recorded GDP of 1.4% in the first quarter of 2020 from the previous quarter at the end of 2019 when it had grown 1.3%.

The Bank of Korea said the pandemic has hammered industrial output, domestic spending and jobs, according to Yonhap. Starting April 13, the country suspended visa-free entry and visa waiver programmes for 90 countries, as it has seen an increasing number of Covid-19 infection cases coming in from abroad amid the global pandemic.

The number of foreigners coming to South Korea for a short-term stay tumbled more than 70% after Seoul’s suspension of visa-free entry and visa waiver programmes to curb the inflow of the coronavirus from abroad.

Meanwhile, a Malaysian — currently in Seoul — Nur Nabilah Muhammad Kamal said the awareness on Covid-19 has been promoted by the government from as early as in January.

She said all train stations have been providing hand sanitisers to commuters. In fact, sanitisers are also available in buses that ply the city.

“Since the end of January, music shows which are famous among all K-pop fans have been conducted without any audience.

“However, the sad part was, there are restaurants that ban foreigners from entering,” she told The Malaysian Reserve.

Nur Nabilah said as for routes used by confirmed patients, one would be notified on new routes of the subjects on the web, which would be updated within a day or two.

“We will get notice on phones via emergency alerts every time new confirmed patients are reported in our area,” she added.