How is South Korea managing the pandemic?

Everyone on the interwebs is singing the praises of South Korea for beating COVID19 without having to endure a lockdown. Is that really true? I work with someone who lives in Incheon in South Korea, Dakota McCarty, so I thought I’d get the inside scoop from him. This is straight from the horse’s mouth and not through someone’s uncle’s brother’s, wife’s sister’s cousin’s hairdresser.

It’s not completely true to say South Korea hasn’t been in lockdown. Schools and universities are all closed there since early March and with no plans to physically reopen. All learning is now 100% online. So while you can say the schools opened on 6th April, no one is physically going to school – they’re all learning online from their homes.

Bars and restaurants have been open but just yesterday it was announced that these are to close in Seoul. They remain open in the rest of the country but to gain entry you must have your temperature taken. If it’s high they call 119 and someone comes and takes you to a testing facility. You must also wear a face mask at all times and use hand sanitiser before entering any place of business. All religious gatherings have been banned. Apparently, such places were administering “cures” in church and inadvertently spreading the disease. They are also selectively closing places of business when it’s found that someone who tests positive has previously visited there.

When someone tests positive the government has the power to check CCTV, phone records, bank records, and geo-location records to get a good picture of where they’ve been and who they’ve met. They’re using information from personal credit cards to track movements.Β  There’s even an online map that shows where the positive cases are down to their street address. Would people in Europe accept this level of surveillance?

Wearing a face mask in public is mandatory for everyone. Each person is allowed to buy two masks per week with days of purchase allocated based on their date of birth. They only cost 99p thanks to government subsidies.

South Korea hasn’t closed its borders but all new arrivals must go into quarantine either at their own home or at their own cost in a government facility. If people in home quarantine flout the rules they face prison and fines of more than Β£6,500. They’re also trialing a quarantine wristband to monitor people in quarantine and most people seem to support this.

I think the message here is that no, South Korea has not beaten COVID19 without a lockdown. They are in lockdown too but their cases are low because of a high level of testing along with government surveillance of the population followed by steep fines and jail time for disobedience. I suspect also that culturally the people are more compliant than people in Europe although I have no evidence to support this. They’ve also adapted much better to the changing situation with schools and universities going 100% online to reduce the disruption as much as possible. By contrast, here in the UK there’s been little effort put into moving schools to an online delivery model. People are also still asking when they’ll open again as though after two weeks of closure things will return to normal. That’s simply not going to happen.

South Korea has also been doing extensive testing, something the UK has had great difficulty ramping up. But it’s clear that testing alone is not a golden ticket. The testing has been alongside all these other measures, including school and university closures, government surveillance and tracking, hefty fines and prison terms, subsidised face masks for the entire population, temperature checking, and now the closure of bars and restaurants in some places. Would this work in the UK? Would people here give the Government unfettered access to their bank statements, phone records, and other location-based tracking data for the greater good? I would, if it meant avoiding another Great Depression. But don’t expect it to be a free pass back to normality.

15 thoughts on “How is South Korea managing the pandemic?”

  1. Interesting how the truth is a little different to the other version we hear. Who’da thought, eh? πŸ™‚

    Here’s New Zealand and Jacinda Ardern getting talked up, if you’re interested. I can confirm that what’s said here is all true πŸ™‚ Which doesn’t mean that it’s perfect, but no-one’s spinning a line just to look good.

    1. It’s possible NZ could eradicate but it’s too widespread elsewhere now for it not to be brought in from overseas again. Jacinda Arden is amazing. Everyone loves her. I saw her press briefing about the easter bunny and tooth fairy being key workers. My mother in law also told us that all schools are going to be delivering lessons online and they’re giving laptops to children who don’t have one. That’s amazing!

      1. You’re right – complete eradication in four weeks is wishful thinking. It would be nice to think we could do that, but I don’t think even Superwoman has that power πŸ™‚ I didn’t know that about the laptops – I don’t watch the news much. I wonder how those who don’t have an internet connection will manage, which will be most of those they have to give a laptop to, I’d imagine. Interesting.

  2. I was going to say how does this compare with New Zealand! We were talking today about how well New Zealand have planned. Also Germany. I have a friend who used to work with some of people who are now Tory politicians (including Boris Johnson.) She thinks that the British politicians are coming across OK because they did a lot of consultation with behaviour scientists about how people would react and how to manage the population’s behaviour but we did less than Germany regarding the science, and logistics. So that is why we are lacking protective equipment and ventilators. (She said when the politico types were journalists they were not known for their forward planning.) So I think the best managed systems seem to be forward planning and early action, will lead to more freedom for the population than blanket action across the board. But I would never have been able to foresee that or argue it from the outset.

    1. New Zealand are in lockdown too and schools are closed but they’re planning to deliver lessons from home and are giving laptops to children who don’t have one.

      Forward planning – or preparedness – is always going to be good and it’s clear Britain did not prepare enough given the lack of simple things like face masks and the difficulty we’re having scaling testing. I’m also disappointed with the lack of online education – they seem to be happy for kids to miss what could end up being 6 – 12 months of school. If schools do go back in September how long will it be for? Just another three months and then they’re closed again? They think only 10% of the population has been infected which means it’s only going to spread again as soon as restrictions are lifted.

      1. Yes – your point about how compliant a population is reminded me about my Chinese student saying everyone there is just going to school online, they don’t need to coerce anyone because everyone recognises the importance of education. We are def still teaching and marking online at our school, but you’re right there is no central guidance or help for schools on how this should happen and you are also right that if the school can’t afford to lend all those who need them equipment, those children will go without.

      2. Yes, I think Asians definitely have a higher regard for education overall. I went to a high school with a lot of Asians and they were very studious and did well academically.

        I understand that it’s hard to suddenly go from teaching in a classroom to teaching online overnight. This is something they should have prepared for in advance.

      3. Yes we only got notification from the government on the Wednesday that the Friday would be our last day of school. My kids said that Uni wasn’t such a big deal because all their lectures go on line anyway.

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