COVID-19 Pandemic : South Korea Moon Jae-in Government KCDC's War Against the Novel Coronavirus

Published : Friday, March 27, 2020, 7:26 pm
ACROFAN=Seunghee Shin | | SNS
▲ COVID-19 is threatening the world (Image from JHU CEES)

COVID-19, which occurred in Wuhan, China in December 2019, has spread worldwide and bogs us down. Looking at global figures, the number of confirmed patients had been in a slight increase since the beginning of March, and it started to increase rapidly since the second week. In just one week, the number of confirmed patients increased by 260,000. As of 27 March, the total number of confirmed patients is 531,708, and the total number of deaths is 24,053, showing a mortality rate of about 4.5%.

With the power of COVID-19 uncovered in a twinkling, the world is now in an emergency. Experts predicted that not only the global GDP and the consumer price index but also the global growth would decline. The decline in economic activity has already occurred. People are canceling trips, meetings, and working at home due to policies. We are just waiting for the end of this situation at home.

In South Korea, the number of confirmed patients was at the stable status until mid-February, but showed a sharp upward trend of more than 100 patients every day until mid-March due to collective infection. Although it has recently entered a stable phase again, about 82.4% of the confirmed patients have been identified to be related to collective infection, so it is crucial to reduce the likelihood of future collective spread. As of 27 March, the cumulative number of confirmed patients is 9,332, and the total number of deaths is 139.

A lot of effort is being made to improve the situation that has been changed by COVID-19 as soon as possible. Fortunately, it has been said that the quarantine against COVID-19 in South Korea is outstanding. The World Health Organization (WHO) pointed out South Korea as one of the best practices for COVID-19 response. Currently, the quarantine against COVID-19 in South Korea is proceeding forward under the leadership of Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (hereinafter KCDC,

▲ Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) publishes the results of epidemiological investigations of confirmed patients every day (Image from KCDC)

Quarantine measures that KCDC is undertaking to overcome COVID-19 include (a) epidemiological investigation systems, (b) inbound traveler inspections, (c) publicity campaigns, and (d) treatments and preventive vaccines R&D.

■ Transparent and Rapid Epidemiological Investigation System

First of all, KCDC publishes epidemiological investigation results transparently every day. For more detailed information about the route, etc., anyone can check through the site operated by each district office.

On 26 March, KCDC announced that it officially launches the “COVID-19 Epidemiological Investigation Support System”. This system automates the epidemiological investigation procedure to supplement the results of interviews with confirmed persons and enables real-time analysis of big data. Therefore, it becomes possible to automatically identify the moving line of the confirmed patient and the points of stay by timeline, and to analyze various statistical data such as the large-scale outbreak area and the source of infection in the area.

■ Strengthened Inbound Traveler Inspections

In light of the rise in the percentage of imported cases, KCDC is strengthening screening at port entry. Since 22 March, every inbound traveler from Europe is required to be tested, and starting on 27, a stronger screening process is applied for inbound travelers from the United States.

All inbound travelers must first install the mobile “Self Health Check” app and submit the status. All symptomatic persons will be diagnosed at the airport quarantine station regardless of nationality. The asymptomatic persons will enter self-quarantine for 14 days, and they should install “Self-Quarantine Safety Protection” app to receive intensive management from the local public entity. As such, KCDC is thoroughly carrying out without missing the management of self-quarantine persons.

▲ It is easy to know the prevention rules through the posters (Image from Ichon Global Village Center)

■ Extensive Publicity Campaigns

KCDC has been promoting the “Social Distancing Campaign” since the end of February. The campaign, first of all, is recommending to follow basic precautions such as washing your hands with soap and running water, covering your mouth and nose with sleeve when coughing, and wearing a mask. Also, refrain from going out and expanding working from home are included. Since 22 March, the KCDC urged everyone to participate in enhanced “Social Distancing Campaign” for 15 days (22 March – 5 April).

However, since the possibility of psychological problems such as feeling of depression or alienation increases when the relationship with neighbors is cut off by practicing ‘social distancing', KCDC has started a “Free Professional Psychological Counseling” as part of a campaign for psychological quarantine. In this campaign, more than 230 professors of psychological counseling and certified first-class psychological counseling experts participated voluntarily and showed high civic consciousness.

■ Participation in R&D on Treatments and Preventive Vaccines

On 26 March, KCDC announced that it will develop COVID-19 antibody treatment and preventive vaccine in cooperation with domestic companies. The development of monoclonal antibody therapeutics that can be obtained through antibodies of recovered patient’s blood will be cooperated with Celltrion. The development of preventive vaccines using synthetic antigen (subunit) technology will be progressed with SK Bioscience. Through this cooperative R&D, candidate materials development and efficacy evaluation will be conducted, and clinical studies will also be supported when candidate materials with proven efficacy are selected.

This is possible because of the outstanding technology of KCDC and domestic companies. On 10 March, KCDC National Health Research Institute succeeded in producing a protein (aka 'probe') that detects COVID-19 antibody in the blood. Moreover, the immunofluorescence assay (IFA) required for the development of therapeutic agents had also been secured.

▲ As of the 20th, the total COVID-19 tests performed by country (Image from Our World in Data)

COVID-19 quarantine, centered on KCDC, will not be able to succeed without (a) the domestic companies’ supporting technologies, (b) local governments' efforts, and (c) civic consciousness.

■ Remarkable Korean Testing Kits

The Korean testing kit is regarded as excellent in that it has achieved three major features: securing rapid inspection methods, constructing a national inspection system, and simplifying administrative procedures. In addition, through the newly developed real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test method, it was possible to diagnose COVID-19 infection within 6 hours. As of the 26th, an average of 20,000 tests are being conducted per day, and a total of 340,000 accumulated tests had been conducted in South Korea.

For novel COVID-19 inspection, five testing kit product companies received emergency use approval by KFDA, which are Cogene Biotech, Seegene, SolGent, SD Biosensor, and BioSewoom. Of these, Seegene's testing kit (Allplex™ 2019-nCoV Assay), which features 98% accuracy and large capacity, has been exported to the United States at the request of President Trump. Besides, domestic pharmaceutical and bio companies such as GeneMatrix and LabGenomics are currently shipping testing kits or ready to export.

■ “Drive-Thru” COVID-19 Testing Centers

In order to reduce the infection in the diagnosis process, the drive-thru COVID-19 testing center was first launched in Goyang city last month. This system was introduced to major media in the world as well as domestically, and was praised for being innovative. A driver does not have to get out of a car and only needs to open a window to be checked for fever or have samples taken by medical staff in protective suits. The system has a significant advantage that the entire process takes less than 10 minutes, unlike the previous tests, which took up to an hour or more to disinfect the office every time the patient went.

The drive-thru designated clinics are currently being deployed and operated in various local governments nationwide. As of 25 March, there are 79 designated clinics with a drive-thru testing system. Meanwhile, recently, there has been a tendency to create drive-thru COVID-19 testing centers, mainly in the United States.

▲ The survey shows mature civic consciousness to overcome COVID-19 (Image from COVID-19 National Risk Awareness Survey)

■ High Civic Consciousness
Last but not least, mature civic consciousness helps to take a step closer to overcoming domestic COVID-19. According to a survey conducted on 1,000 men and women across the country, people are well-practicing quarantine in daily life, such as 'observing personal hygiene rules' and 'keeping social distances'. It was found that they are doing their best to prevent the spread of COVID-19 with the thought of 'the subject of quarantine.'

In addition, to overcome COVID-19, about 160,000 volunteers from across the country participated in various activities such as disinfection and quarantine, support for self-quarantine persons, and distribution of goods. At the end of February, when the number of patients in the Daegu and Gyeongbuk regions rapidly increased, and the number of medical staff was insufficient, 800 medical staff volunteered and showed high civic consciousness. Furthermore, a number of people are participating in donations to overcome COVID-19.

In conclusion, efforts for novel COVID-19 quarantine in South Korea are being carried out in numerous places, so it is believed that South Korea is currently entering a “stable state.” However, with going into April, the beginning of elementary, middle, and high schools and the end of the ‘working from home’ period of many companies should not be overlooked. Until the development of vaccines and therapies has been completed after the end of COVID-19, we cannot rest assured. The efforts of citizens and the government as they are today are still needed.

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