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Ambassador Park on the success of South Korea’s strategy in the face of Covid-19

By - World Healthcare Journal

The World Economic Series in association with Diplomat magazine was delighted to welcome Her Excellency Ms Enna Park, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea, and Dae Joong Lee, Director for Development Finance, Ministry of Economy and Finance. Their contribution was a fascinating insight into South Korea’s successful strategy during the pandemic, which has seen an effective control of the spread and very low death rate and even an increase in GDP, and will be covered in two separate reports focusing on the COVID-19 policy and the economic response.

 

HE Ms Enna Park is South Korea’s first female career diplomat to lead a diplomatic mission abroad. A graduate of Yonsei University in Seoul with a Master’s from Columbia, she has held many posts abroad including at the United Nations and in Beijing. In her remarks she aimed to share South Korea’s experience of the pandemic and share best practice in its management.

 

She began by quoting John Donne – “No man is an island” – to make her first point that “no country will be completely safe until the world as a whole is safe”. With no lockdown, 26,000 coronavirus cases, just 460 deaths, a 1.7 per cent fatality rate, and the second wave having been stabilised since August, South Korea is being held up as an example of how to manage a sudden and novel pandemic.

 

Strong Control Tower : Decisive and consistent response

Korea’s success lies in the strong leadership led by experts to steer the right course through uncharted waters. Unlike many other nations, South Korea has not closed its borders and most businesses, apart from a few such as nightclubs, have remained open.

 

“Our TTT strategy – test, trace and treat – was the key,” said Ms Park to a large audience that included other ambassadors and key policymakers. “From the outset, the country's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention was granted great authority and autonomy to control operations. The centre is composed of experts, and the daily briefings rested solely in their hands. That expert group was in the driver’s seat. It’s made our response incisive and consistent, ensuring the full trust of the Korean people. ”

 

The second important contribution to South Korea’s success has been civic awareness and participation. A SARS outbreak in 2005 had been the first warning sign that new viruses were threatening the global population. An outbreak of MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in 2015 had already alerted the public to the importance of wearing face masks so they knew how dangerous a novel virus could be. As a result, there was no need to enforce the need for face coverings when Covid-19 struck.

 

Similarly, the public accepted the need for track and trace through the use of personal data. “The South Korean people put public health and public safety considerations above individual interest,” she said.

 

From the outset the government was aware that citizens held the key to tracking the virus. But they were also keen to uphold privacy at the same time, which led to innovative solutions being designed by ordinary people rather than sector specialists.

 

“The mobile phone tracing app showing the real-time activity of the virus was designed by a high-school student in the very early days of the outbreak,” revealed Ms Park. “The drive-through and walk-through test stations were invented by a doctor. We have exported the idea of test stations to the world and I think we should probably have registered the intellectual property! ”

 

A partnership between government and citizens

After the 2015 MERS outbreak the government enacted the Pandemic Law which stipulated how the government should be prepared, covering private information and data privacy along with agreements with the private sector that scoped out the level of support they would offer.

 

As part of the preparedness, the South Korean government enacted a regular simulation of a pandemic scenario in December 2019, just weeks before Covid-19 emerged. This coincidence ensured that both the government and the public were prepared, and the strategy was undertaken in accordance with the simulation manual.

 

“We knew that testing was the key so we asked the pharmaceutical companies to develop a testing kit, which they did within a week and then produced it to scale within a few days. We were better prepared – we had a legal framework and public awareness. So it was actually a partnership between authorities and the citizens that allowed the government to act decisively. ”

 

The Ambassador went on to say that South Korea is learning from the UK with regard to the social safety net via different departments in the UK government. The Health, Finance and Foreign Ministers of both countries have held conversations to share their insights and she feels there is a lot of learning to share.

 

Economic shock and recovery

She touched on the economy, saying the shock of the virus led to economic shock. Domestic demand plunged, consumer confidence nose-dived and export volumes decreased. Korea has been using all means possible to rescue the economy, such as relief and support for small businesses, support for a stable employment and stimulation of the economy with a $50bn package.

 

Along with successful containment of the virus economic damage has been avoided and Korea’s GDP shows a V-shaped recovery from minus 3.3 per cent in the second quarter to 1.9 per cent in the third quarter. Consumer confidence has bounced back. If there is no serious resurgence of the virus the economy will grow by 0.8 per cent this year.

 

She left the details of Korea’s New Deal and Green Deal to fellow speaker Dae Joong Lee, Director for Development Finance, Ministry of Economy and Finance, who joined the webinar from Seoul and whose remarks will be covered in the second half of this report.

 

“We have to use this crisis to prepare for future generations’ needs,” the Ambassador concluded. “We must never forget we shall be rated by the effectiveness of our response, not only by our citizens but by future generations who will judge how well we mapped this challenge. May they say that we did not retreat into ourselves but overcame adversity through humanity, friendship and coalition. We were never intimidated by the scale of the challenges but tackled them with efficiency and vigour. ”

 

 

REPORT: SARAH CARTLEDGE

 


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