How the South Korean government is handling the coronavirus outbreak in innovative ways

From drive-thru testing to GPS tracking

Dr. Su-Hyun Berg

© Kim Hyun-Tai/​YONHAP/​AP/​dpa

Situation in South Korea

As of the 26th of March 2020, South Korea confirmed 9,241 cases of infection after the first case of coronavirus in the country on January 20. At the moment, 4,144 patients were discharged from hospitals after making a full recovery from the virus and 131 deaths are reported.

Table 1. Reported Cases and Management Status (total since 3rd Jan 2020)

Source: Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC)

Figure 1. Number of new confirmed cases (per day)

Source: Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC)

Cases of COVID-19 patients have increased significantly in South Korea since mid-February, particularly in and around the city of Daegu (North-Gyeongsang province, 237km away from Seoul, See Map 1 below). Korea, as a leading high-tech and digital country, as well as a country experienced by SARS and MERS, is very focused on this development.

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Map 1. Number of confirmed coronavirus cases by provinces & special cities.

Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare of South Korea

More than 365,000 people have been tested in the crisis centers since mid-February, and many have since been released as healthy. In this way, infected people can be identified and treated at an early stage.

Drive-thru testing: 20,000 people every day

South Korea has built 633 testing sites nationwide, including 45 drive-through clinics and pop-up facilities (Photo 1) to help diagnose patients and minimize contact between the potential patient and medical staff. This new idea shortens time spent on testing to just 10 minutes per person as the medics do not have to change quarantine suits after every test. Applicants must drive to the site in their cars wearing masks. Tests are conducted at a makeshift tent outside of buildings to prevent spreading indoors. The test fee is between USD 70 and 140 and it will be free of charge if the test result is positive. The drive thru facilities cut testing time by as much as a third, so it makes 20,000 tests per day possible in Korea. In other words, the number of inspections was 26 times higher than other countries.

©Yonhap/AFP via Getty Images

Transparency – Trace, Test and Treat

Time magazine[1] and BBC News[2] reported that the reason why South Korea’s coronavirus outbreak got so quickly out of Control. Main explanation is due to the relative “openness” and “transparency” in Korean society. The South Korean Foreign Minister, Kang Kyung-Wha, had an interview with BBC’s Andrew Marrs on March 15, 2020 and pointed out that the preventative measures being taken in South Korea have so far involved no lockdowns, no roadblocks, no curfews and no restriction on movement. Furthermore, she thinks extensive testing has been the key to South Korea’s low corona virus fatality rate, and that the South Korean government have the responsibility to “guard against panic”. South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, has taken a back seat as health officials communicate twice a day to the public about the state of the outbreak showed the high degree of transparency and competency of South Korean health institutions.

5-day rotation mask distribution system

Korean government recently introduced “5-day rotation mask distribution system” to the country. This system guarantees that Korean citizens and foreigners can buy two masks per week on designated days by presenting their ID card at pharmacies, post offices or supermarkets. People are also allowed to buy masks for family members under 10 years or over 80 years old by showing their ID in print or digitally through the mobile app “Government 24”. This new distribution system secures equal allocation of masks and prevents citizens from unnecessary panic buying.

© NewDaily Korea

Self-Diagnosis Mobile App

The Korean government has developed two mobile phone applications to follow potential patients, with one of them being mandatory for people arriving from high-risk areas – currently includes China, Hong Kong, Macao, Iran and the EU countries – who are forced to answer daily questions about their possible symptoms. The app forwards users to telecalling executives for arranging testing if they report developing symptoms. The other app warns public officials whenever someone is quarantine leaves the isolation zone. 

© Financial news Korea

Practicing social distancing

More firms introduce “social distancing measures”.  LG International Group has decided to extend its telecommuting policy to March 20th, Hyundai Motors Co., Kia Motors Corp. and SK Group are considering similar extensions to their respective work-from-home arrangements. Hanwha and Doosan Groups are thinking about expanding their social-distancing measures through telecommuting, holidays and other means. MOTIE (Korean Ministry of Trade, industry and Energy) decided to support companies in the exhibition industry and to diversify export marketing for export companies by rescheduling exhibitions,  expanding digital marketing support such as 1:1 Video Buyer Meetings in collaboration with KOTRA (Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency) regional offices and overseas networks, or merging postponed exhibitions with similar ones. [3]


Cases of COVID-19 patients have increased significantly in South Korea since mid-February, particularly in and around the city of Daegu. Korea, as a high-tech and digital country, as well as a country experienced by SARS and MERS, is very focused on this development by concentrating on identification and treatment at an early stage. The “Korea model”, characterized by full transparency, pre-emption and prevention, built public trust and led to a very high level of civic awareness and voluntary cooperation that strengthens the collective effort to overcome COVID-19 outbreak.

Dr. Su-Hyun Berg is a Korea export specialist at COLUMDAE ApS.

 Su-Hyun has worked with a wide range of Korean and European governmental and industry organizations with a key focus on high technology projects including Industry 4.0, AI, Biotechnology and renewable energy issues.

[1] https://time.com/5789596/south-korea-coronavirus-outbreak/

[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-51836898?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.com/news/topics/cnx753jej1xt/south-korea&link_location=live-reporting-story

[3] https://korea.ahk.de/covid-19

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