Soon after the disease emerged in China, South Korea was one of the countries that had to battle with the coronavirus.
Now, thanks to the country’s widely lauded policy of testing, tracing, and treating, the situation is starting to improve for its citizens.
South Korea reported four more cases of coronavirus today, but all of them were imported cases, marking the first time that local infections have fallen to zero since the coronavirus outbreak began more than two months ago.
The country experienced its first case on January 20 but didn’t see infections ramp up until mid-February. They peaked on February 29 with 909 daily cases and have been trending down ever since. The South Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement that the new four cases took the country’s total to 10,765 with 247 deaths. Up to 9,059 of them have recovered and been released from quarantine.
Health authorities concluded that no local transmission occurred since a parliamentary election earlier this month, where authorities took safety measures, including requiring voters to wear masks and plastic gloves when casting ballots.
“Twenty-nine million voters participated in the 15 April parliamentary election. Not one case related to the election has been reported during the 14 days of incubation period,” Yoon Tae-ho, director general for public health policy, said in a press conference.
A clinical expert panel concluded this week that recovered coronavirus patients who later test positive for the virus again were not “reactivated” or reinfected, but were false positives. False positives were due to technical limits of PCR testing, they claimed.
Despite the signs of a slowdown, local health authorities urged caution in the coming days, when people are expected to go on trips and visit relatives during a series of public holidays. South Koreans celebrated Buddha’s birthday today, with May Day to follow tomorrow and Children’s Day next Tuesday.
Should the number of infections continue to decrease, South Korea plans to ease its social distancing measures. The country eventually plans to move on to what it calls “everyday life quarantine,” which means schools and workplaces will mostly return to normal but with precautions.
South Korea offers many lessons for countries trying to cope with coronavirus. It quickly developed its testing capacity to an average of 12,000 people a day using hundreds of drive-through and walk-in testing centers. Mobile testing centers can conduct a test free of charge within 10 minutes. The country also used mobile technology against the outbreak in the form of contact tracing. People who tested positive were asked to describe their recent movements, aided by GPS phone tracking, surveillance camera records, and credit card transactions.