How South Korea Flattened the Curve of Coronavirus Using Technology

Early on South Korea was one of the hardest countries hit by COVID-19. However, now South Korea is looked at as an example of a country that has flattened the curve of Coronavirus. Currently, there are less than 60 cases a day compared to 70,000 in the United States. South Korea was able to do this without shutting down the economy. As well as, not restricting the movement of their citizens through forced lockdowns. So what can the rest of the world learn from South Korea regarding the handling of COVID-19? World governments and experts are looking at South Korea for lessons to implement in their country in the bid to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

The South Korean Healthcare System

Before we talk about the technology used to fight COVID-19 in Korea, we need to discuss the South Korean healthcare system. Koreans are not afraid to go to the hospital even for a common cold. This is because it is relatively cheap to get checkups and medical treatments through the Korean healthcare system. South Korea has shown that this system can coordinate a response to a public health crisis. This system works during a pandemic like the current coronavirus outbreak. The healthcare system in Korea is well funded because it is not competing with private sector insurance companies and private hospitals. Koreans pay less for their healthcare system while getting better outcomes.

This is what Americans would call a universal single-payer healthcare system. The US has shown that the private healthcare sector has a hard time responding to a public health emergency. Therefore many of the strategies that have flattened the curve of coronavirus in South Korea will not work for countries like the United States.

The Early Weeks of COVID-19 in South Korea

Flattening the curveThe first case in Korea was from a person who was a part of the religious group called Shincheonji and this person ended up infecting a lot of people in the city of Daegu (Southeast of Seoul). The virus was spread at a church gathering. The person spread the virus to many people at the church who then spread the virus across Daegu. Within weeks it was spreading in Seoul. In early March, there were as many as 900 new cases per day in Korea. However, by mid-March, the number of cases went down to 500 and by late March it was down to less than 200. How did they do it?

The Korean government, KCDC (Korea’s version of the CDC), and the private sector worked together immediately from the start of the outbreak because they recognized the seriousness of the threat. There was no sense of false security because they saw what was happening in China. The ability to work together was also a big factor that flattened the curve of coronavirus in South Korea.

Large Corporations in Korea Offering Help

Large Corporations have been doing what they can to help curve the spread of COVID-19 in Korea. For example, Samsung offered its training institute and research facility for use as treatment centers for COVID-19 patients. This has been very helpful for reducing the need for hospital beds in Korea. The facility located in Goyang (South of Seoul) can have up to 180 beds. In addition, Samsung offered doctors and nurses form Samsung Group’s hospitals to work at these facilities on a rotational basis. This goes along with a $25 million emergency assistance package Samsung donated to the National Disaster Relief Association in early 2020.

The Current State of the Coronavirus in South Korea

Flattened the curve of coronavirusA typical day in South Korea now involves getting constant alerts on your smartphone regarding the latest COVID 19 cases in Korea. When you step outside, virtually everyone is wearing a mask. In addition, there is a strong sense of trust amongst Koreans in what the South Korean government is doing to combat COVID-19. There is a sense of normalcy in South Korea now. Not a single city in Korea is under lockdown. Restaurants, churches, bars, gyms, and even learning centers are now fully open. Trains, cabs, buses are running at full capacity and food markets are all stocked with food and supplies. The only difference now is that public schools/universities/events are not fully open and people are all wearing masks.

South Korea has experience with virus outbreaks due to the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) contagion that it experienced a few years ago and SARS back in 2003. So in a way, South Koreans have been trained in regards to self-isolation, social distancing, and wearing masks. Currently, there are around 60 new cases per day and this number has been consistent. It is safe to say that at this moment, South Korea seems to have flattened the curve of coronavirus.

Ways South Korea Used Technology to Flatten the Curve on Coronavirus

Working with Korean Biotech Startups

Covid testingThe Korean government gave regulatory room and emergency approval for private Korean biotech startups and companies to quickly develop test kits. In addition, the production of test kits and COVID-19 masks were in production almost immediately since the first outbreak. In a few weeks, thousands of test kits were being shipped across Korea daily. At its highest point, South Korea was able to produce 100,000 kits per day and test 20,000 people per day. The Korean government met with representatives from several medical startups and enterprises in Korea to quickly start producing coronavirus test kits for mass production.

The Korean government is fully supporting Korean Biotech companies in not only the production of testing kits but also the development of a vaccine. Genexine a Korean clinical state biotechnology company is currently leading the way for a valid vaccine. A human clinical trial has already begun and it is very possible that Genexine will be the first company in the world to commercialize a COVID-19 vaccine. Celltrion, a leading force in the Korean pharmaceutical industry is not far behind with clinical trials starting sometime in July. There are many more biotech companies looking to find a vaccine as soon as possible.

Negative Air Pressure Bio-Safety Labs

Covid BoothsSouth Korea opened over 600 testing centers that use negative air pressure for its COVID-19 screenings. These testing centers spared hospitals and clinics in Korea from being overwhelmed. The testing centers resemble a mobile home but inside looks more like a bio-safety lab. There are booths inside that look like phone booths. People enter a booth inside the testing center where they are able to consult over an intercom with a doctor. The doctor or nurse will then swab the person’s nose and throat using gloves without ever coming in contact with the patient. The key is that the booths all have negative air pressure, which sucks in any airborne viruses. The whole process takes less than 7 minutes. After every patient, the booths are disinfected.

Drive Through Testing Centers

flattened the curve of coronavirusDrive through testing centers allow for fast testing without the need of getting out of the car. South Korea has over 50 drive-through testing stations. This allowed Korean citizens to get tested with having to go to a hospital, clinic, or even a testing center. The tests are free and consist of a questionnaire, a throat swab, and a temperature scan. The whole process takes 10 minutes. The results are sent to the patient via text message.

Government Automated COVID Alert Messages

Covid AlertThe Korean government utilizes an automated COVID alert messaging system to alert citizens about COVID-19. It doesn’t matter if you want the messages or not. Throughout the day people living in Korea constantly get emergency messages with information about confirmed cases in and around their neighborhood. So messages are different depending on where they live. They will get general messages from time to time but the vast majority of the messages are specific to their region.

Corona Maps

Corona Map AppThis is an app that shows where an infected patient has been. The Corona Map was created by students and engineers in Korea. They wanted to provide information about people with confirmed cases and where they were. More and more engineers in Korea joined the project. The Corona Map uses data collected by the Korean government. The Korean government is able to track those that are infected using CCTV and GPS from both smartphones and cars. In addition, they are able to crack your credit card use to see where you have been.

The KCDC runs a contact tracking system that uses data from 22 credit card companies to trace the movement of individuals with COVID-19. Countries like the United States can’t do this because of privacy laws. South Koreans have mostly accepted the loss of privacy during this crisis and see it as a necessary trade-off. The results show it flattened the curve of coronavirus which in the end is what matters the most for many Koreans.

Self-Quarantine App

Flattened the curve of coronavirusSouth Korea did not ban other countries from entering, but rather used technology-enabled tracking and a mandatory 14-day quarantine. This quarantine also applies to Korean citizens coming back to Korea. All this is tracked through a self-quarantine app. All travelers returning to Korea will be required to download the app. It will alert officials on whether people go out of isolation. A fine of as much as $2,500 will go to those that break the quarantine rules. The Korean government has been helpful in making the process as easy as possible for those under quarantine. They offer supplies to those under quarantine for two weeks. The Ministry of the Interior and Safety developed the app. It uses GPS to keep track of everyone’s location.

Thermal Image Cameras Using AI Technology

flattened the curve of coronavirusThermal Image Cameras use AI to identify people with fevers. AI cameras check people’s body temperatures and can operate 24 hours a day. As people pass by the camera, it will detect the temperature of the background and compare it to the person. This is a lot more effective than checking people one by one. When the camera detects abnormal temperatures it will send the information to a control center in less than a second.

Smart Bus Shelters

Smart Bus ShelterIn Seongdong-gu district there is a bus shelter booth that is designed to protect riders from viruses. The district was the first to implement the Smart Bus Shelters which have ultraviolet light air sterilizers that prevent the transmission of airborne viruses. It is able to break up 96-99% of virus particles. There is a thermal imaging camera that checks the rider’s body temperature. In addition, the smart bus shelter is equipped with a surveillance camera, free Wi-Fi, and phone charging ports.

Remote Learning

Remote LearningA revolution in education is happening in Korea since COVID-19. Schools have moved online and many are looking into personalized learning. Teachers are now able to give each student different feedback customized for their needs. South Korea is promoting the continuity of education for students through blended learning. This is an approach that combines distance learning methods with in-person education methods. Schools across Korea began offering online classes since April, this has played a major role and flattened the curve of coronavirus in Korea. Furthermore, the Seoul educational department has already given digital devices to students from low-income families to bridge the gap of the digital divide.