How did South Korea fight Covid without a lockdown?

Image Source: AFP VIA GETTY IMAGE

The Republic of Korea (ROK) recorded a total of 21k cases and 341 deaths since its first case in January (the US also recorded its first case in January). Without a blanket nation-wide lockdown, the country recorded an average of less than 50 cases per day between April and July.

In this article, we look at how they did this, and what India can learn from them.

Collection of Data

South Korea collected the following information in association with the police departments, Credit Finance Association, 3 telecom companies and 22 credit card companies:

  • GPS data from mandatory apps
  • Credit card information
  • CCTV footage
  • Drug purchase records

Using all this information, ROK was able to build a path for all its citizens- a path which tracked where the individual went and how much time they spent there.

For a positive patient, this information was made available to the public, to allow them to judge their own level of risk by checking where an infected person went, and at what time.

This information also helped the government identify particular buildings and facilities that were the source of Covid clusters, declare them as ‘high-risk’ and shut them down for complete sanitation for 2 weeks. This allowed the country and the economy to operate as normal.

Robust Healthcare System

  1. Categorizing: ROK uses a scoring system to classify patients into 4 categories, and have dedicated health centres for each category. This robust and clear system helps eliminate inefficiencies in management of patients.
  2. Mapping: Every positively infected individual was mapped with a health official, who was responsible for interviewing and tracking symptoms of the patient daily. Further, expenses were covered for patients under self-isolation, and the patient would be on a paid-leave.
  3. Infrastructure: To avoid the interaction of suspected and positive cases, the government installed a 3- layer infrastructure system: Screening centres > Testing Centres > Hospitals. A suspected patient would be directed first to a screening centre for pre-diagnosis, then to a testing centre (if needed), then to the hospital.
  4. The government also installed drive-through screening centres, which allowed patients to be tested from inside their cars within 10 minutes.

The ROK healthcare and tech system was not built overnight. It was built after years of collaboration with scientific communities, and after continuous learnings from their flawed response to the MERS outbreak of 2015.

While the governments around the world may not have been ready for Covid-19, they should use this as an opportunity to build a robust healthcare system complemented with technology, to tackle any such problems in the future.

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