We all know South Korea’s success in innovative technology, being ranked as one of the top innovative countries in the world in the Asia-Pacific region by Bloomberg and the World Intellectual Property Organization. Known as a booming tech hub, it comes as a surprise when hearing South Korea is now the most affected country of COVID-19, otherwise known as coronavirus, which has recently been the trending headline on all news sites as numbers of cases rapidly grow and there is yet a proper cure or vaccine to prevent the pandemic.
The virus is spreading fast, but ever faster is fear.
Cases of COVID-19 first emerged around December 2019, traced back to Wuhan China. Infection spread to a number of countries around the world by January 2020 and South Korea was among the first few countries outside China to have reported cases.
Now, South Korea has become the talk of the world. How did a country with such precautionary measures and advanced technology come to be the second most infected place in the world? This cluster traces back to a religious cult in Daegu, South Korea, named the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, where 4000-plus coronavirus cases (Mar 2) have been diagnosed.
Shincheonji head Lee Man-hee is the leader of this cult and is blamed as the church’s secretive nature and tightly packed conditions; the Shincheonji worship services are known for their closeness and crowdedness as the members attend the services in a closed space and sitting on the floor side by side.
Nearly 20,000 people are being tested daily for COVID-19 in South Korea, more people per capita than anywhere else in the world. Perhaps, this is why the number of cases detected in South Korea far exceed other countries. The test samples are quickly shipped off to a nearby laboratory where staff are working 24 hours a day to process the results. In the battle to contain the contagion, these labs have become the front line. “South Korea has created a network of 96 public and private laboratories to test for coronavirus,” states Laura Bicker— reporter of BBC News. Health officials believe that careful measures are saving lives as the fatality rate for coronavirus in South Korea is 0.7%. Globally, the fatality rate has been reported as 3.4% by the World Health Organization.
Currently, there is no shortage of testing kits in South Korea. Four companies are given approval to continue producing these kits meaning that every week, South Korea has the capacity to test 140,000 samples.
Trace, test and treat is the mantra. Schools are closed, offices now encourage people to work from home, and large gatherings have stopped. Yet, day by day, the streets of Seoul begin to get busy again with more people found wearing masks or getting temperature screening checks.
South Korean scientists has also been monitoring and analyzing blood from recovered patients and have developed a unique protein that detects antibodies. Furthermore, there have been accounts from former patients including one from Mr. Lee who was working in Wuhan, China in December when the virus struck the city. He states, “I felt fine and almost had no symptoms. Just a little cough. Speaking from my own experience, it’s really important to still be cautious and safe, but I wish people would have less fear of the virus itself.”
The virus is spreading fast, but ever faster is fear. To prevent this virus from affecting our every behavior and mental health, we should be aware and cautious while not reeling to panic.