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How Did Taiwan and South Korea Flatten the Coronavirus Curve?

Apr 23, 2020 3:09 PM 3 min read

In these uncertain times of the Coronavirus pandemic, it might help to look at what countries like Taiwan and South Korea have been doing to successfully "flatten the curve".


Billions of people around the world are under lockdown as countries scramble to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus. The pandemic has spread everywhere, but some countries seem to have been affected worse – or rather, have fared worse – than others. Italy, Spain, USA and UK are some obvious examples. But as the virus continues to spread, new hotspots are feared – in Japan, India, Central America and Africa, among others. Some experts even warn a second outbreak may be imminent in places like China where restrictions are being eased.


Both these countries share the ominous distinction of being physically close to the origin of the pandemic – China. However, while lands far away shut themselves down to stem their rising death tolls, these two countries somehow managed to evade disaster – and that too without having to impose nationwide lockdowns!


How Did Taiwan and South Korea Flatten the Curve?

There are many striking and significant similarities in Taiwan and Korea’s war against COVID-19.


Both of them began their fight early on – in fact, Taiwan shut down outside travel even before Wuhan was shut down! Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs) like masks were mass-produced and were worn by virtually all citizens. Also note that in these countries, and also in others in the region like Hong Kong and Vietnam (which are also faring relatively well), wearing face masks in public was a well-established custom most people adhered to long before COVID-19.


Quarantine breakers, fake news peddlers and PPE price gougers were fined heavily. Advanced contact tracing systems were deployed to alert everyone who had been in contact with those who tested positive, and it was ensured that these people were quarantined too.


(Side note: these contact tracing systems managed to work so efficiently mainly because of measures akin to surveillance, because of laws revised "to prioritise social security over individual privacy at times of infectious disease crises". This is something that might not be as acceptable in, say, India, Europe or the US.)


And both countries also borrowed from past experience: Taiwan had fought a SARS outbreak in 2003 and Korea a MERS outbreak in 2015. So their health systems and governments knew what was at stake and what had to be done.


Taiwan and Korea also unleashed the most intensive testing operations in the world. They tested everyone, not just those with symptoms, and they tested enough that less than 3% of their tests were positive.


In the case of South Korea, it also benefited from imposing regional quarantines in towns that accounted for most positive cases and a law that empowered the government with emergency measures in the advent of an epidemic. It also benefited, strange as it may seem, from a reverse travel ban - many countries banned all travel from South Korea in addition to China in early March. This meant fewer foreign footfalls in Korea, which ended up helping authorities flatten the curve. And they've done well - so well that they even managed to conduct a national election recently despite everything!


The Road Ahead

The COVID-19 curve can be unpredictable – it's not like Taiwan and South Korea are entirely free from danger. But as of now, they are faring far better than any other country. They acted fast and they acted decisively, so were able to flatten – and depress – the curve quickly, that too without imposing massive restrictions.


If the world was a classroom and fighting COVID-19 was an exam, Taiwan and South Korea would have probably aced that exam. And they're offering the rest of us help and guidance. If we're kids about to fail that exam, we might want all the help we can get right now.



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