Coronavirus Cases Have Dropped Sharply In South Korea. What’s Its Secret?

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    South Korea “has emerged as a sign of hope and a model to emulate,” reported Nature earlier on Tuesday. “The country of 50 million appears to have greatly slowed its epidemic; it reported only 74 new cases today, down from 909 at its peak on 29 February.” And it has done so without locking down entire cities or taking some of the other authoritarian measures that helped China bring its epidemic under control. “South Korea is a democratic republic, we feel a lockdown is not a reasonable choice,” says Kim Woo-Joo, an infectious disease specialist at Korea University. South Korea’s success may hold lessons for other countries — and also a warning: Even after driving case numbers down, the country is braced for a resurgence. Behind its success so far has been the most expansive and well-organized testing program in the world, combined with extensive efforts to isolate infected people and trace and quarantine their contacts. South Korea has tested more than 270,000 people, which amounts to more than 5200 tests per million inhabitants — more than any other country except tiny Bahrain, according to the Worldometer website. The United States has so far carried out 74 tests per 1 million inhabitants, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show. South Korea’s experience shows that “diagnostic capacity at scale is key to epidemic control,” says Raina MacIntyre, an emerging infectious disease scholar at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. “Contact tracing is also very influential in epidemic control, as is case isolation,” she says… Legislation enacted since [2015] gave the government authority to collect mobile phone, credit card, and other data from those who test positive to reconstruct their recent whereabouts. That information, stripped of personal identifiers, is shared on social media apps that allow others to determine whether they may have crossed paths with an infected person… There are 43 drive-through testing stations nationwide, a concept now copied in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. In the first week of March, the Ministry of the Interior also rolled out a smartphone app that can track the quarantined and collect data on symptoms. “We hope our experience will help other countries control this COVID-19 outbreak,” Kim tells Nature. And Reuters reports that in the five days since the article was published, South Korea has still kept new infections around a low 100 or less each day — for 12 consecutive days — compared with the peak of 909 new cases reported on February 29. Reuters adds that though South Korea has experienced 8,961 cases, on Monday it reported its lowest daily number yet for new cases — 64. And on the same day, “257 patients were released from hospitals where they had been isolated for treatment, the KCDC said. “South Korea posted more recoveries than new infections on March 13 for the first time since its first case was confirmed on January 20.” Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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