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Corona Crisis: What the World Can Learn from South Korea

A cold wind sweeps across the parking lot south of Seoul and swells the tarpaulin of the white tents. A doctor and two helpers have been standing here since nine o'clock to test patients who drive up to Covid-19.

They wear a white protective suit and a plastic apron over them, several layers of latex and plastic gloves, face masks and a plexiglass visor. A black BMW turns into the parking lot, the driver lowers the window. He doesn't have to get out. The nurse asks for personal information and measures fever. Then the BMW drives up a few meters and the doctor takes a sample from the throat and one from the nose.

This so-called drive-in testing is safer and faster than other methods, it takes less than ten minutes. There are now such stations in Germany too. "When patients go to a clinic, they may infect others or contaminate their surroundings," says the doctor who is on duty this morning.

President Moon declares the virus "war" 50 such drive-in test stations exist across South Korea. The city of Goyang was a pioneer and officials there were inspired by McDonald's drive-in. The test is free for the patient and comparatively cheap for the South Korean healthcare system. It costs the equivalent of 48 euros at the car station and 121 euros in the clinic.

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Drive-in test in Daegu: comparatively cheap
KIM KYUNG-HOON / REUTERS

Drive-in testing is part of the South Korean government's effort to control the outbreak. Around 8,000 people in South Korea have been infected with Corona, more than in any other country. But in the meantime, the curve has flattened somewhat, the mortality rate is comparatively low, and experts attribute this to South Korea's exemplary handling of the disease in many ways.

President Moon Jae In has declared "war" on the virus. An average of 12,000 people are tested for Covid-19 in South Korea every day, with a maximum of 20,000 tests per day. The authorities receive the results in six to 24 hours, significantly faster than in other countries. The fact that such high numbers of infections are reported from South Korea is also due to the fact that a particularly large number of people are examined for a possible infection.

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"We are very impressed with how much is being tested in South Korea," said Thomas Frieden, the former director of the CDC, the American agency for the protection of the disease. In this way it can be recognized early on who is infected. Specialists agree that this is important to lower the infection rate. Because if you know early on that you are infected, you can take precautionary measures to avoid infecting others.

Virologist calls South Korea's approach "absolutely exemplary" The virologist Christian Drosten from the Charité in Berlin also says about the approach of the South Koreans: "I find this absolutely exemplary. I would like it if we could also achieve such a test rate." South Korea is big A distance from other countries shows a comparison of the University of Oxford. South Korea had already carried out 210,144 tests on March 10, compared to 60,761 in Italy, 26,261 in Great Britain and only 8554 in the United States. One thing is striking: 60 people died of Covid-19 in South Korea, and the average mortality rate was 0.7 percent . The number is lower than in other countries. The experts in the country do not want to commit to an explanation of why this might be the case. It may be related to early detection, and therefore early treatment, says Kim Dong-hyun, president of the Korean Epidemiology Society. But it could also be due to the fact that many younger people were infected in South Korea, for whom the courses were not so difficult.

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Soldiers disinfect a street in Seoul
KIM HONG-JI / REUTERS

South Korea changed its infrastructure for a possible epidemic five years ago after the outbreak of Mers disease. That helps in the current crisis. The authorities are not only allowed to query the personal data of those infected in detail, there is also an emergency center for infectious diseases and expert groups that meet regularly. Quarantine control via app People who have been in regular contact with infected people have to quarantine themselves throughout South Korea for two weeks. An app is used to monitor whether this self-insulation is observed. In the Global Health Security Index, South Korea scores excellent when it comes to preventing and identifying and responding to infectious diseases, in the "emergency system" category the country even ranks first. The Korean epidemic protection agency KCDC only went through a simulation on December 17 . She tested who is responsible in an emergency, how to react and how long it would take to diagnose. A corona virus served as an example in the simulation by chance: Despite these precautions, the virus was able to spread rapidly in the south of the country from mid-February. Critics accuse the government of continuing to let passengers from China into the country so as not to upset Beijing. Refusing to enter Wuhan alone was not enough.

The anger of many people, however, primarily affects the Christian Shincheonji sect. During their services in the south of the country, believers were infected in large numbers, so that the city of Daegu and the neighboring province developed into a hotspot. Almost two thirds of all infections in the country are due to Shincheonji.

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When the curve of new infections flattened earlier this week, there was hesitant optimism. But then it turned out that the outbreak is not stopped. South Korea has opted for voluntary activity. Since the middle of the week, a new infection has started in Seoul, now in Seoul. More than a hundred people got infected in a call center. The government is again trying to take countermeasures. The Mayor of Seoul asked karaoke bars, internet cafes and clubs to shut down. In Daegu, meanwhile, it becomes clear how even a robust health system reaches its limits: the medical staff there work to the brink of exhaustion, especially the first few weeks were hard. "We knew little about the virus and how to control it," says doctor Choi Sang-woong. At the Keimyung University Hospital in Daegu, where he works, two nurses reportedly collapsed. Colleagues had to get infusions, Choi reports on the phone. The situation has now stabilized. Unlike Wuhan, Daegu has not been cordoned off, but is instead committed to people voluntarily staying at home. The South Koreans want to demonstrate how democracy can react to this virus, which is testing civil liberties all over the world: with transparency and a sense of community as well as superior medical technology.
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