Coronavirus News Asia

South Korea reveals how to win Covid-19 war

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Chung Sye-kyun was not exactly triumphalist, but there was an air of undeniable pride as South Korea’s prime minister explained how his country had mastered the Covid-19 crisis and was offering a helping hand to the world on Friday.

“We have more experience than other countries, so if we could share it at the earlier part of the transmission – if our knowledge and information is of use to other countries facing this great challenge – we would love to do so,” Chung told foreign reporters.

Chung’s pride, many would argue, is merited.

South Korea just might be the most successful virus-response case study among those democracies heavily impacted by the novel coronavirus. While Japan and Taiwan have also handled the outbreak with considerable aplomb, neither suffered a mass infection of the kind Korea was hit by last month when a mass infection at religious sect ignited a crisis in the country’s southeast.

Media and medical professionals from around the world have praised South Korea’s management of the crisis, while leaders from Canada, Saudi Arabia, Spain and the United States have contacted South Korean President Moon Jae-in for advice on Korea’s model.

Back from the brink

Last month, South Korea teetered on the verge of catastrophe.

Following a chain Covid-19 outbreak at Shincheonji, an idiosyncratic Christian sect, the country found itself in second place behind China in infection numbers. Infections were soaring on a daily basis, reaching a daily peak of 909 new cases on February 29.

This month, data indicate that Korea has passed the curve. Daily infection numbers are in double, not triple digits, and it has slid down to 10th place as other nations see surges. As a result, Korea has “flattened its curve” and its number of cases can be managed without overwhelming health services.

And thanks to a combination of widespread testing, contact tracing, early treatment and a dose of good fortune, it has pushed its infection-to-mortality ratio to below 1%.  

As of Friday, the country has recorded 9,332 infections, with only 139 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University information. And 4,528 of those infected have recovered, according to the Korea Center for Diseases Control and Prevention, or KCDC.

“We have overcome the critical period,” Chung said. “The number of new cases has come down to double digits … we are at the point where we can manage the situation.”

Remarkably – and contrary to Chinese and European practice – South Korea has achieved this without nationwide, province-wide or even city-wide lockdowns.

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