South Korea appears to be ‘flattening the curve’ after experiencing one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks outside of China. Authorities on Monday reported 74 new cases, compared to more than 900 a few weeks ago.
“Detecting patients at an early stage is very important and we learned the simple lessons by dealing with this virus that this is very contagious – and once it starts, it spreads very quickly and in very wide areas,” says South Korean Health Minister Park Neunghoo.
“Raising the testing capability is very important because that way, you can detect someone who’s carrying the virus, then you can contain the virus.”
South Korea was quick to implement widespread testing, including a drive-thru testing area. So far, the nation has administered more than 200,000 tests.
Authorities posted messages about social distancing, working from home, and other strategies in as many places as possible – on the street, in public transportation, and in the media. Authorities also banned large gatherings, closed schools and daycare facilities, and canceled major sporting events. Public spaces in Seoul were closed in mid-February, when the nation had just 150 confirmed cases.
“City Hall asked people on February 20th, when the outbreak had barely been discovered, to only leave their places when absolutely necessary,” says Kim, a resident of Daegu. “That’s what a majority of citizens have kept doing and continue to do for almost a month now.”
South Korea has also demonstrated incredible transparency, using a national mobile phone alert system to let residents know when and where a new case pops up. Individuals who recently traveled to high-risk areas are required to answer daily questions about their health.
To date, South Korea has reported a total of 8,236 cases and 75 deaths. The nation’s testing rate is roughly 3,692 tests per million people. Its mortality rate is about 0.6%.
Compare this to Italy, which imposed quarantine measures too late. Italy is testing roughly 826 people per million and has a mortality rate about 10x higher than South Korea. To date, Italy has reported 27,980 cases and 2,158 deaths.
Another factor in the difference between South Korea and Italy is age. Nearly 30% of Italy’s population is over age 60; less than 19% of South Korea’s population is over age 60.
And then we have the United States, which is refusing to test most patients for the virus and has been slow to close facilities and businesses. The US has reported 4,667 cases and 87 deaths.
President Trump held a briefing about the virus Monday, urging Americans to avoid groups of more than 10 people, not to go to bars or restaurants, and to close all schools. He also indicated that he was open to suggestions for a bill currently in Congress that seeks to provide paid sick leave for employees of small businesses and added that it is up to each state to decide whether to postpone its primary election.