Brief report of Covid-19 infection in Republic of Korea

Brief report of Covid-19 infection in Republic of Korea

Ukjin Kim
Seoul National University, Korea
May 18, 2020

On January 20, 2020, a 35-year-old Chinese woman was identified as a new coronavirus infection, becoming the first Covid-19 infection in Republic of Korea. This patient was a resident of Wǔhàn City. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) decided to raise alert level from ‘blue’ (level 1) to ‘yellow’ (level 2 out of 4-level national crisis management system).

On February 23, 2020, the government of the Republic of Korea had upgraded the alert for infectious diseases to 'red' (level 4) and has been operating the 'Covid-19 Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters, (CDSCHQ)’, headed by Prime Minister Sye-kyun Chung. The government has conducted a briefing on Covid-19 every day at 11 am and 2 pm.

As a result of conducting intensive social distancing and strengthening quarantine of foreign immigrants, the number of new Covid-19 infection per day was less than 10 in April 2020. Most of all, the high level of citizen consciousness among the people who actively practiced social distancing has contributed to reducing the number of new Covid-19 infection.

However, it has not ended and large-scale mass infections, such as the Sincheonji (新天地, Religious group) mass infection, may recur. Many Koreans are tense because backflows can occur from the other countries where there are many new Covid-19 infection. Eventually, as the Itaewon Club's group infection happened, the number of new Covid-19 infection increased to the 30, raising public concern.

Pictures: Collecting samples for diagnosis of Covid-19 at screening clinics.
What are the measures taken by your government to control this virus infection?
Postponed school opening

On February 23, 2020, a one-week postponement of kindergarten and elementary, middle, and high schools was decided. As a result, the opening of school scheduled for March 2, 2020 was postponed to March 9, 2020. In addition, on February 28, 2020, the opening of school, which was scheduled for March 9, was postponed to March 23, 2020. On March 17, 2020, because of possibility that the Coivd-19 spread will increase further, the opening of school was postponed to April 6 for another two weeks. Now, ‘online class’ was started from April 9, instead of offline class, and the opening of kindergartens was postponed indefinitely.

Public mask sale

When the supply of masks could not keep up with demand, the government of the Republic of Korea said it will supply 4.45 million ‘public masks’. The government has implemented the ‘5-day rotation system’ for purchasing the public masks. Under the 5-day rotation system, public masks can be purchased based on a birth year. For example, if someone's birth year ends with 5 or 0 (1995 or 2000), they can buy public masks on Fridays. The government has limited the number of public masks that people can purchase to 2 per week. From April 27, 2020, the number of public masks has increased to 3 per week.

Pictures: Notices on public masks attached to pharmacies in Republic of Korea. 3 Public masks are sold per week for 1,500 won each. You can bring your ID and public masks can be purchased on the date specified in the 5-day rotations systems for the year of birth.
5-day rotations system for purchasing the public masks
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat, Sun
1, 6 2, 7 3, 8 4, 9 5, 0 All
Daegu·Gyeongbuk Special Disaster Zone

In Daegu and Gyeongbuk, 89% of covid-19 infections occurred and were the most affected. When this place is declared as a Special Disaster Zone, not only taxes such as national taxes and local taxes, but also pension insurance premiums, health insurance premiums, and telecommunication charges are reduced or deferred. The declaration of the Special Disaster Zone is the eighth case on the basis of social disaster, and became the first for an infectious disease.

What has been learned in your country with regard to this pandemic?

Korea's advanced medical and quarantine system itself is not the only achievement of the current government, but has been evolving since the previous government. Korea successfully prevented SARS in 2003, and later created the KCDC, which helped lay the foundation for the infectious disease management system. In 2015, although it was 'mend the barn after the horse is stolen', the system was improved to strengthen the ability to respond to infectious diseases after the MERS incident.

In addition, 'many tests for Covid-19', which is the most evaluated factor in Korea by foreign media, is possible due to its ability to rapidly produce large quantities of diagnostic kits. The 'emergency use authorization (EUA)' implemented first in June 2016, played a decisive role in developing Covid-19 diagnostic kits. According to Chun Jong-yun, CEO of diagnostic kit maker ‘Seegene’, without a EUA, it takes 12 months from product development to approval. As such, we learned a lot from our past experiences with the infectious diseases and could use it to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Even now, new strategies such as thorough social distancing, drive-through screening clinics, and public masks that cooperate with the public are effectively preventing Covid-19. Based on this experience, we will be able to develop strategies to prevent the second outbreak of Covid-19 or new pandemics.

How is this virus infection affecting your daily life and work? You might like to add in your other opinion.

Business owners are recording a deficit due to a decrease in the number of users in convenience facilities such as restaurants and stores. The use of public service facilities such as resident centers, libraries, and general social welfare centers is restricted or closed, which has a negative effect on the residents. Even an extroverted and active person may be depressed because they have to stay at home. Therefore, a hobby that can be done indoors is recommended. Typical examples include plastic model assembly, ‘dalgona’ (Korean candy) coffee making, YouTube, and streaming sites like Twitch. Also game market is booming. For example, Nintendo switch title ‘Animal Crossing New Horizons’ released in Korea in March 2020 is showing tremendous sales. In addition, due to the social distancing, the number of customers at the bar or restaurant decreased, but more people drink alone at home.