Why Was South Korea So Successful in Dealing With the Coronavirus Pandemic?


Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.

In March and April of 2020, when countries across Europe were in lockdowns of varying severity, their populations looked on with jealousy as the people of South Korea were living a life of near-normality. At first glance you would think South Korea had somehow remained immune to the coronavirus, however this was not the case.

South Korea was in fact one of the first countries to be hit with the virus in January, not long after China. However, what was to follow for South Korea’s population was not a lengthy lockdown, but instead an organised and successful track and trace system was put in place, which was used to control the spread of the virus. Of course, the country’s population had to abide by social distancing rules and businesses and events that couldn’t abide by these were shut down for a period of time. Also, it’s worth noting that there have been small outbreaks in the country over the summer months, but these have been successfully located and controlled. Mostly, the population were able to keep their death rates and cases very low due to their dedication to testing, and the successful isolation of positive cases. When the World Health Organisation explained that the best way to deal with the virus was to ‘test, test, test’ this is exactly what South Korea did.

This in comparison to the UK, is where the test and trace system is not up to the standard it needs to be. According to a report in The Guardian, scientists have noted that the system is not working at a sufficient rate – it should find up to 80% of those who’ve been in contact with someone with the virus in order to keep the infection rate down, but this appears to not be happening.

A further reason South Korea has managed to keep its death toll to a very low 302 is because it took the threat of Coronavirus seriously from the start. Whilst UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson first called for herd immunity, and there have been claims he missed numerous meetings regarding the virus at the start of the year, South Korea realised how substantial the death toll would be with an attitude like his. South Korea did not take this mindset, as many remembered the lives lost during the Sars outbreak in the country in the early 2000s. South Korea faced the pandemic with a clear and ordered approach, which is something lots of countries (most notably the UK and the US) lacked.

Of course, government policy was, and remains to be, key in controlling COVID-19, but individual action is also very important. A key example of this is wearing a mask in instances where social distancing is not possible. In South Korea they have a better understanding of how important wearing a mask is in terms of slowing the spread of the virus. Thus, masks have been readily and cheaply available since the first cases of the virus in the country.

South Korea is one of the places across the globe looked to with great admiration in terms of its dealings with the COVID-19 pandemic. What led to this success was an educated and organised government response, alongside the same response from the general population. This is something lots of countries failed to have, which has had disastrous implications, and resulted in the loss of many lives due to sheer stubbornness.


Deputy Editor 2020/21. Final year History student.

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