Handling with the Covid-19 Pandemia – The East-Asian Way

Opinion14.04.2020by Prof. Dr. Andreas Stoffers, Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, Hanoi
Lessons from South Korea's COVID-19 outbreak - Photo from The Diplomat
The Diplomat

Hit by the Covid-19 crisis, the entire world is currently shaken. In Vietnam, we hear from worldwide Covid-19 driven evil tidings daily, especially from Europe and the USA. But we also receive positive reports from some East-Asian countries. This news gives everyone confidence and clues on to how react courageously and effectively to the threat of the Corona virus. In the following, we will see hopeful examples from two Asian countries.

South Korea: Speed, tests, apps and discipline

The infection curves are steeply rising, worldwide. In most countries, especially in Europe, the number of people infected with Covid-19 is rising exponentially. But in South-Korea, the curve flattened rapidly and is now almost horizontal. The number of infected people has remained stable for weeks at a level that the country can cope with. According to the Johns Hopkins University, the country, which for a long time was number two behind China, now ranks only eighth in the world in terms of the number of infected people. The country in East-Asia is more highly industrialized than Vietnam and more densely populated. South Korea is keeping the number of infected people stably low. This East Asian country has been doing things better than many other countries especially in the West  for weeks. The most astonishing point is that the country has managed to stem the spread of the virus without taking any draconian measures. South Korea has neither curfews nor event bans. Restaurants and shops are open, public transport is rolling. This would bring more medical success and less economic losses.

The number of new infections fluctuates, sometimes more on one day, but soon less on the next. But at the same time, many people are recovering. Four factors are responsible for the South Korean success model:

One is the fast and decisive reaction to the thread: As in Vietnam, schools and universities were closed at a very early stage in order to prevent its spread. Nevertheless, the economy continued to run.

The second is the high number of tests, which started at an extremely early time and thus has allowed the country to accurately predict parameters such as infection, recovery and mortality. Experts assume that the number of infected people in South Korea is now only so high because the country has tested so much. The high number of tests also gives the Government an accurate picture of the mortality rate, which is around one percent.

The third factor is the use of digital technology, which - combined with a low level of data protection - has meant that the virus' way of spreading is known. For example, if you move through Seoul, you will receive messages on your mobile phone informing you that there is an infected person nearby. Anyone entering the country has to download an app to their smartphone and transmit health data, such as body temperature, twice a day for 14 days. Those who have caught the virus and have to go into quarantine even have to download an app that collects the GPS data of the infected person

The fourth, rather soft factor is that Koreans are very disciplined when it comes to restraint in public life. Everyone is wearing masks, social distancing works, lifts are avoided and - if they are used - there is no talking in them, fever is measured all over the country and really everywhere there are disinfectants, which are also used. This discipline is combined with the inventiveness of the Koreans. For example, a soap has come onto the market that changes its foam colour after 30 seconds and thus signals how long you should wash your hands.

Taiwan: Speed of response, experience and a good healthcare system

Taiwan, an island with 23.6 million inhabitants, just outside the gates of the huge People's Republic of China, was at least as successful as South Korea. Precisely because Taiwan has such close ties with China, the Government immediately cut its ties with China. This did not happen in Europe and the USA due to negligence. But Taiwan very soon closed its borders because her politicians knew that the epidemic would spread to the island first. This quick response was crucial to the success of the operation. The main reason for the fast reaction of the Taiwanese is probably 17 years ago, when the country was already overrun by an epidemic. Relevant experience was crucial.

Thus, when at the end of December 2019, the first reports of the appearance of a mysterious "corona virus” in Wuhan came up, Taiwan started immediately (from 5 January 2020) medical examinations and corona tests for travellers from Wuhan without exception on arrival. If the test was positive, quarantine followed. Contact persons were also checked immediately. The entry stop for people from Wuhan was then followed at the beginning of February for a ban to all Chinese. Anyone who was in China or changed planes at the airport had to spend two weeks in quarantine. Fever controls and disinfection was done in front of every public building. The production of medical supplies was increased and centrally coordinated. The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) was put into charge. This center with extensive power was established within the State Health Department after the SARS epidemic almost 20 years ago. Army medical personnel were mobilized, the production of disinfectants was ramped up, the sale of masks was rationed, but their production was multiplied. Practically all Taiwanese were now wearing face masks. Since many new infections came from outside the island, all those entering the country were checked early on - and when the number of infections shot up again at the beginning of March, follow-up checks were carried out on those entering the country who had had to leave their mobile numbers at the border posts since January anyway, so that they could be reached at all times.

On the website of the Taiwan Center for Disease Control, everyone can easily retrieve all the figures of tests, infections and quarantine, clearly arranged and cleverly presented. This transparency created trust among the Taiwanese citizens. After a surge of cases in early March, the trend is now clearly downward.  Without any question, Taiwans crisis management is a top success story in infection control. The latest grand gesture is also impressive: a total of over 10 million new protective masks are being sent to the world in need, over five million of them to the European Union.

The stories and experiences from these two East Asian countries are encouraging. Many parallels can be seen with Vietnam's crisis management strategy, where Covid-19 has not yet claimed any lives./.

(Read the Vietnamese version at: https://thanhnien.vn/the-gioi/han-quoc-dai-loan-da-lam-gi-de-ghim-cuong-dich-covid-19-1209713.html)