South Korea’s Battle with COVID-19 – A Success Story?

by Gaurica Sethi - 10 August, 2020, 12:00 3113 Views 0 Comment


The Coronavirus pandemic swept the world off its feet and has left countries with political and economic crises. Countries like the United States of America, Brazil and Russia are in a desperate struggle, yet a small country like South Korea today is being lauded for its vigilant response to the escalating pandemic.

South Korea reported its first case on January 20, 2020, and had a difficult start especially when a sudden outbreak was reported in Daegu, a city which is a hotspot for industry and transportation. Since then South Korea has reported a total of 301 deaths, with the highest number of active cases in May-7362 [1]. This number is still on a lower scale given that Korea is one of the first countries to be affected by the Coronavirus outside of China and since then the scale has flattened gradually, allowing Korea to reopen its economy. Their fight against coronavirus can be attributed to various strategies and measures taken by the South Korean Government.

Insights gained from the battle of 2015 

Five years ago South Korea faced a challenging health situation and crisis due to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) – a viral respiratory disease which till date has no discrete treatment or vaccine available. The struggling fight with MERS and the lessons learned from then made mistakes led South Korea to make extraordinary changes and boost up its health sector.

Various changes and experiences were gained by the government :

  • The pharmaceutical, biomedical and medical industries were added to the core sector of the economy, where regulatory investments, R&D investments and talent development was promoted.
  • A new law in 2016 has also allowed the laboratories to use unapproved in-vitro diagnostic kits in case of any future public health emergency.
  • A provision for more transparency and information in the public arena regarding the disease cases and the current situation was made to the Infectious Disease Control and prevention.
  • Recognized the importance of acknowledging the urgency of the matter with quick responses and accurate diagnosis of the disease along with an early warning to the public.
  • Development of new drugs and equipment.

These changes led South Korea to fight the COVID-19 crisis in a better and efficient manner with the early actions taken to combat the pandemic. The country immediately reinforced all their medical and health staff to work on the current situation and various diagnostic kits to test the virus were circulated and over 20,000 tests were being conducted on a daily basis.

Technology: A Double-Edged Sword

Despite the accusations and displeasure portrayed by the people of Korea towards tracking and monitoring the public through their new data-sharing system, it turned out to be a major revolutionary and functional weapon to combat the coronavirus. The new data-sharing system is being used by the government to track and monitor the movements of the public who were diagnosed positive with Covid-19 through their data sharing system that has a record of all the credit and cell phone history.

Recently, various concerns have been voiced by the citizens regarding their privacy and personal information being violated by the government to curb the coronavirus. Over time, the same information was made available to various medical researchers and institutions but it required a proper procedure. With the sudden outbreak of the virus, this procedure was fastened and the private information was made digitally available within an hour of request.[2]

Frequent messages and alerts were given to the public when they were near a locality or an infrastructure where COVID positive cases were found, so the citizens could keep clear of those locations.[3]

Second Wave – Is the fight over?

After witnessing a peaceful few months and the flattening of the curve, the Government relaxed the rules for social distancing in May. Since the relaxation of the rules, the country saw a surge in cases witnessing 113 new cases on July 25. The government reported that the majority of these new cases were from the international arrivals than those reported from local channeling. Recently, the South Korean construction workers were brought back from Iraq. Even The Russian crew members were allowed to harbor in one of its cities,  Busan. [4] With the coronavirus cases now being 14,366 with 301 deaths as of 3rd August 2020, South Korea is again under the radar of the deadly virus.  Can this be the rise of the virus again in South Korea?

Is South Korea Ready for Another Struggle?

North Korea reported its first COVID-19 case when a man with the virus had crossed over from South Korea to North Korea. The man who was a defector from North Korea had crossed over back into the country through illegal ways. The man was found to be affected by the virus but South Korean officials firmly denied that the man had any traits of the same. [5]

With a weak economy and its few trades being hampered because of the pandemic North Korea might be impacted greatly if the coronavirus spreads in the country. The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared an emergency meeting after this incident took place and the action plan to counter this is yet to come. So, with the man seeming to have re-defected from South Korea to the North and the North confirming its first case can this be the start of a blame game? Is South Korea ready to face a tussle with North Korea in the wake of Covid-19?


South Korea despite being a small country managed to fight the coronavirus pandemic efficiently. It used various tried and tested technologies and methods from its 2015’s learning experience. With South Korea under speculation for North Korea’s first case and with the suspected second wave in the country; will South Korea keep afloat? What seemed like an exemplary health and safety model for the world is having a hard time with the recent increase in the numbers of patients. What is South Korea’s next big game plan?

Gaurica Sethi
Author is a Masters Student at Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Karnataka, India.

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