But elsewhere there are greater signs of encouragement. South Korea, along with China, was one of the hardest hit countries in the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak. But an aggressive response has made it a role model in the midst of the pandemic – thanks to its rapid implementation of a mass scale test procedure as well as its consistent, transparent communication to the public throughout the crisis arc. The Trump administration fared poorly on both counts in the first months of the outbreak.
In South Korea, infections increased over a 10-day period in late February, when a group of several dozen cases increased in more than 5,000 cases. But infection rates have slowed since the country became active. Out of more than 8,000 confirmed cases of the virus, only 75 people have died so far – a death rate that is below the global average of 3 percent.
Coronavirus tests per 1 million people:
🇰🇷 South Korea: 3,692
🇨🇳 Guangdong, China: 2,820
🇮🇹 Italy: 826
🇹🇼 Taiwan: 615
🇮🇱 Israel: 401
🇳🇱 Netherlands: 350
🇬🇧 Great Britain: 347
🇯🇵 Japan: 66
🇺🇸 United States: 23
– Citizen (@Public_Citizen) March 13, 2020
More than a quarter of a million South Koreans have been tested for the virus. “South Korea can now test up to 20,000 people a day at 633 test locations across the country, including transit clinics and pop-up facilities parked in front of newly infected buildings.” details the Wall Street Journal. “The samples are transported to 118 laboratories in a delivery van – where they are stored in airtight containers at around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. An army of around 1,200 medical professionals analyze the results. “
So much for the United States made it a fraction of it. Some states have moved to copy these pop-up facilities, but the system is uneven and moving after the virus is likely to have spread to major American cities. In South Korea – as well as in Taiwan, another remarkable success story In the fight against coronavirus, the experience of recent fatal epidemics, including the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the MERS outbreak in 2015, has helped lay the foundations for effective government and social response. Draconian locks were avoided to track and monitor potential infections.
“Since such outbreaks have already occurred in South Korea, they know what steps need to be taken and how serious the danger is,” said Leighanne Yuh, an academic at Korea University. the Financial Times said. “If we compare it to the United States, which hasn’t been exposed to these things for a long time, their reaction was very different.”
It also doesn’t hurt that the South Korean authorities have ensured that the tests are essentially free for everyone the country’s payer health care system does not prevent low-income people from seeking preventive care, as is often the case in the United States.
And then there’s the question of leadership. President Trump turned the crisis into a Chinese threat that is easily manageable at the U.S. borders. He complained to his political opponents that he had inflated a small threat. And he repeatedly shared inaccurate information and advice with the Americans about the scope of the virus and the government’s ability to count on it. Only at a briefing on Monday at which Trump pointed out that the outbreak could continue until late summer did the president finally understand the reality of the situation.
Compare this to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has taken a back seat twice a day as a health official and informed the public about the condition of the outbreak.
“Like Trump, Moon has strong ideological beliefs and is facing an upcoming election.” wrote Robert Kelly, professor of international relations at Pusan National University. “But Moon has shown a far greater willingness to take the corona seriously and to give experts the opportunity to carry out the reaction. There was nothing better than Trump’s dithering last month or his bizarre public announcement that this will soon go away or is under control. There was also nothing as unexplained as the conspiracy theory that was so common in the Trump media. “
“No nation’s response has been completely effective, but the high level of transparency and competence of the South Korean health authorities provides helpful lessons about the containment efforts of other countries and the nature of this pandemic for the international scientific community.” remarked Thomas Byrne, President of the Korea Society in New York City.
That kind of openness and transparency, Lee Tae-ho, Vice Secretary of State, told reporters last week, builds “public trust” and leads to “a very high level of civic awareness and voluntary cooperation that strengthens our joint efforts to overcome this public health emergency”.
In many democracies further west, such civic awareness and public trust are far less guaranteed.