Cults and Conservatives Spread Coronavirus in South Korea
South Korea initially seemed to have the COVID-19 epidemic under control, armed with efficient bureaucracy and state-of-the-art technology. However, since Feb. 18, the number of coronavirus cases in South Korea has exploded to more than 1,700 as of Thursday. The battle plan against the epidemic was derailed by the oldest of problems: religion and politics.
When it came to preparation, it helped that South Korea had one hell of a practice run: the MERS outbreak in 2015 that caused 38 deaths. At the time, the incompetent response by the conservative administration of then President Park Geun-hye put South Korea in the ignominious position of having the greatest number of cases outside of the Middle East. The fallout, which contributed to the public distrust of government that culminated in Park’s impeachment and removal, pushed the South Korean government to significantly revamp its preparation for the next viral event.
[ … ] And yet, the government is carrying on. Despite the sudden explosion of cases, South Korea is in the rare position of having an effective means of detecting the disease and the transparency to report the results accurately. The seeming explosion compared to other countries may be a matter of testing as well as contamination. Thus far, KCDC has administered more than 40,000 tests for coronavirus, and more than 7,500 coronavirus tests a day with an eye toward being able to test more than 10,000 a day by the end of February. (In contrast, the United States has tested fewer than 500 people.)
Unlike the draconian quarantine measures implemented in China, the city of Daegu is still open for business, trusting its citizens to take adequate precautions. The Moon administration’s efforts to respond to the outbreak has been earning high marks overall, with a recent survey showing 64 percent approval in the government’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Moon visited Daegu on Feb. 25, urging for a “clear inflection point within this week” in the number of cases. As the virus spreads worldwide, South Korea’s response may serve as a model for how a high-tech liberal democracy can respond to a global pandemic that pressures the weakest points of society.
※ 포린폴리시(FP)는 미국에서 1970년부터 격월간으로 발행하는 외교전문지입니다.