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Thomas Gallatin / Apr. 2, 2020

South Korea's Successful Pandemic Strategy

It effectively limited the virus's spread without shutting the country's economy down.

South Korea only just now passed 9,000 total positive tests for the China Virus, and yet the East Asian nation was one of the earliest outside of China to report infections. Furthermore, South Korea did not engage in a nationwide shutdown to slow the virus’s spread, which has many wondering how it has been able to so successfully keep COVID-19 at bay.

The head of the World Health Organization’s Emergency Program, Mike Ryan, noted, “We’ve seen examples in places like Singapore and [South] Korea, where governments haven’t had to shut everything down. They’ve been able to make tactical decisions regarding schools, tactical decisions regarding movements, and been able to move forward without some of the draconian measures.”

The key, Ryan believes, has to do with widespread testing. South Korea quickly engaged in a vast testing regimen, which allowed it to essentially locate and then target those infected areas for isolation and quarantine, thereby slowing and limiting the spread of the virus to other areas of the country. Thus, those regions of the country free of the virus are able to operate more normally. As explained by South Korea’s foreign minister, Kang Kyung-wha, “Testing is central because that leads to early detection. It minimizes further spread.”

National Public Radio also reports, “Japan is another Asian country notable for its response. Although Japan has more than twice the population of South Korea and also has strong ties to China, it has recorded only a fraction of the cases that South Korea has. … Japan hasn’t been testing nearly as widely as South Korea, but appears to have fended off significant community transmission by quickly investigating any flare-ups of cases, identifying who exactly is infected and then monitoring their contacts.”

Finally, nothing helps like learning from past experiences. Back in 2015, South Korea was hit hard by a MERS outbreak that brought the nation to a near standstill. Lessons learned from dealing with that outbreak have proven pivotal in guiding its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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