South Korea’s COVID-19 response provides valuable insight

August 12, 2020

South Korea started its control and prevention measures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak fairly quickly. This vigilance has allowed South Korea to manage the coronavirus situation without paralysing its national health and economic systems. Researcher Jongeun You of the University of Colorado, US, has reviewed South Korea’s public health policy to learn how it pulled this off.

Between February to April, South Korea tested nearly 534,550 people for coronavirus, which is 10.4 people per one thousandth population. At least 600 screening centres (including 71 drive-through centres), and more than 90 medical institutions assessed specimens with real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) diagnostic test kits. The kits were developed and evaluated by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in partnership with other Korean authorities, specifically for the coronavirus.

South Korea also conducted rigorous and extensive epidemiologic field investigations for positive coronavirus cases. This process included interviews with patients and triangulation of multiple sources of information such as medical records, credit card and GPS data. The Institute for Future Government’s survey in 2020 found that 84% of South Koreans accept the loss of privacy as a necessary tradeoff for public health security. Together with centralised public health governance, South Korean agencies were able to act quickly to implement policy decisions at the local level.

Lastly, the public health budget and flexible fiscal management systems allowed the South Korean government to provide adequate resources to support medical institutions and workers braving the coronavirus crisis. The South Korean government and national health insurance program shouldered the full cost of testing, quarantine, and treatment for Korean citizens and noncitizens. Furthermore, the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare’s (KMHW) supplementary budget passed 3.7 trillion KRW (US$3.2 billion) in March 2020, which enabled the KMHW to increase COVID-19 prevention and treatment facilities.

According to You’s research, national infectious disease plans, collaboration with the private sector, stringent contact tracing, an adaptive health care system, and government-driven communication ensured success in South Korea’s management of the coronavirus. However-

“There are many variables to consider when emulating policies from other countries. South Korea’s extensive surveillance and contact tracing using ICT (information and communications technology) may not be applicable, for example, at the federal level in the US due to different cultural norms.”

You thinks that the US could have adopted South Korea’s ability to quickly ramp up its testing capacity. He further suggests that public administrators meticulously document everything in a timely manner and update policy as information unfolds.

“Though many solutions are emerging, I believe one essential solution for public administrators is to collect documentation about their successes and struggles, and what they hear from citizens and residents about policy implementation and communication.”

The South Korean government proactively found patients who contracted coronavirus, disclosed epidemiologic findings of confirmed patients to the public, and provided differentiated treatments based on the severity of symptoms. Major nations can learn a thing or two from the institutional structure of South Korea, which enabled the policies put in place by the government to become effective.

Category: Community, Features

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