South Korea’s success in fighting the covid-19 pandemic was not just about using the latest technology — it also involved the traditional human touch.
According to a recent report by the House of Commons on the pandemic response in the UK, one of the government’s main failures was to assume that the success of countries like South Korea in controlling the virus could not be replicated in Great Britain.
This decision to ignore approaches that were proving successful elsewhere was one of the UK’s biggest oversights at the start of the pandemic.
However, the report itself fall into a similar trap. The document regards South Korea’s response to the pandemic as exceptional due to the advanced use of digital technology, ignoring the fact that the country has also relied heavily on antiquated social interventions — contact tracing, quarantine and case isolation — assisted by men on the ground.
To combat covid-19 and future pandemics, governments need to pay attention to the lessons of these social interventions and not just the technological ones. South Korea teaches us that high tech solutions they can help protect against disease, but they work in tandem with social interventions.
The UK government had the ambition to create a test-track-isolate system “revolutionary”. However, the House of Commons report concludes that England’s system has had little effect, despite large expenditures.
Other countries were also unable to contain the covid-19 sufficiently without resorting to draconian confinements. However, South Korea has regularly been cited as an exception.
While South Korea has had to introduce some control measures to limit the spread of the virus — there were confinements for companies and limits on gatherings in 2021 — the country avoided total confinement and border closures, keeping the covid-19 cases relatively low. Remember that South Korea is one of the most densely populated large countries in the world.
Key to this has been the quarantine measures for travelers arriving in the country, which were introduced very quickly, and the country’s highly effective test-track-isolate system. This carefully designed process provides local support for those who are isolated, while monitoring and sanctioning non-compliance.
Yes, mobile phone data and other forms of surveillance have been used to track down people who may have the virus. But once a positive case is confirmed, it’s human intervention that ensures these people don’t spread the virus further.
IT’S designated a responsible person to work with affected families.s. They communicate with infected people during the isolation period. After initially making contact by cell phone to inform people of the need for isolation and the guidelines to be followed, caseworkers hand out a home stay kit as discreetly as possible to protect the person’s privacy.
This one kit contains essential goods that prevent the person from needing to leave. Families are provided with food, drink, garbage bags, a thermometer, masks and alcohol-gel to help prevent new infections. Kits can also be adapted, for example, to include certain foods or medications — and even pet foods.
The guardian is the infected person’s main point of contact, providing advice and support during the 14 days of isolation. Again, technology plays a role. An application of smartphone it can be used to monitor the person’s reported symptoms and to make sure (via GPS) that the person is not breaking the quarantine.
But its influence should not be overstated. The application is mandatory, but who doesn’t have it. smartphone you can still get support through calls and messages.
Self-isolated people can contact their caseworker when extra help is needed, for example with urgent daily business such as banking or pet care.
As the relationship works both ways, this encourages conformity through the creation of a social bond. The comprehensive and individualized support given to those who carry out isolation primarily ensures compliance by removing barriers rather than punishing infractions.
The need to deal with the loss of income that people who are isolated face was also identified at the beginning, with modest payments of up to $374 readily available.
The effectiveness of these interventions is clear: published data suggest that non-compliance with isolation rules was extremely low in South Korea during the pandemic. Those who break the rules run the risk of losing financial support that the government offers.
Not breaking the rules has also been encouraged. as a social norm through daily media reports on the number of people who do not adhere to isolation. Generally, that’s no more than four people a day — in a country of 55 million.