In early January this year, the brand new and deadly COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world. Originating in Wuhan, China, it rapidly spread around the entire world. Millions of people were infected and it was not slowing down, creating a media frenzy, worldwide panic, and fear. Due to this being a new virus, no one knew how to treat it. Hundreds of thousands of people were dying and it was not slowing down, leading to global chaos.

The fear of COVID-19 and protecting as many people as possible led the world to shut down. People were restricted to leave their homes under mandatory quarantine laws, borders closed globally, airlines ceased to operate, all sports were canceled, and schools and businesses closed.

As of today (January 30, 2022), there have been over 375 million people infected and over 5.6 million dead (Worldometer, 2022). Due to COVID-19 being a global problem, different countries responded to this pandemic in various ways. South Korea’s attempts and successes to slow the spread of the virus as well as its initial responses were one of a kind. The main reasons behind their efficiency are South Korea’s political system, the country’s high-quality health care system, as well as how technologically advanced they are.

Politics

South Korea has a unitary state system, which means that the governing power in this country resides in a centralized government, delegating authority and channeling policy decisions to subnational units for implementation. South Korea is a constitutional republic and operates under a liberal democratic political system.

There is a presidential election that takes place every five years, where citizens over the age of twenty vote in the form of a nationwide, direct, equal, and secret ballot. South Korea’s current president is Moon Jae-in, a left-wing politician.

The South Korean government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was quite different from most other countries’ responses. At the beginning of this pandemic, South Korea was actually the country with the most cases outside of China; however, the government’s eventual reaction proved incredibly effective and was praised by the World Health Organization’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

In March, the government implemented a comprehensive approach to the pandemic including national lockdown, strict quarantine laws, mandatory social distancing and use of masks, widespread testing, contact tracing, rigorous and free treatment, public-private cooperation, as well as making available the world’s first drive-through screening centers and walk-through screening stations. Within a month after government intervention, the cases in South Korea decreased dramatically.

Health Care

A large reason why South Korea is so successful in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic is that they have incredibly high-quality free healthcare. One reason why the country was able to contain the situation is because they were very well prepared. The Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare (KMHW) has an infectious disease plan that they update every 5 years.

In their plan, they detail how South Korea should respond to an infectious disease outbreak; prioritize the principles of openness, transparency, and democracy, as well as ensure that the country has the resources and structures necessary to respond to an outbreak at any time.

South Korea’s government also meticulously outlined and structured their infection control system into six categories; entry prevention, response to confirmed cases, early patient detection, treatment of infected patients, treatment of non-infected patients, and finally, resource-securing and support.

Each point was carried out thoroughly and they commercialized how to do a self assessment at work and home. It is evident that South Korea’s healthcare system and COVID-19 prevention plan is incredibly extensive and thorough, but it also proved to be highly effective. As of today, 85% of South Korea’s population has been fully vaccinated, and the infection rates are slowing down.

Technology

South Korea’s technological advancement is a huge reason why they were able to efficiently and successfully reduce the spread of COVID. South Korea is one of the world’s most technologically advanced countries, specializing in tech careers in healthcare as well as having outstanding performances in R&D intensity which has made South Korea a global leader in information, research, and communication. Its technological advantages made a lot of the efficiency in treatment, tracking, and vaccinating possible.

In the case of this pandemic, the world’s first drive-through screening centers were in South Korea, they were world leaders in extensive testing, free medical treatment, and the use of GIS technology and government official apps to monitor the spread of the virus.

Due to the country’s sophisticated technology, the government was able to accurately track the spread of the virus and use the newest, most advanced equipment to treat its people. Now, while South Korea is currently handling the pandemic incredibly well, it is important to note that the government would not have been able to carry out all of their plans had their citizens not complied.

It is necessary to mention that South Koreans worked together with the government and listened to their regulations and recommendations, that is largely why all of the government’s efforts were successful.

Comparisons

Briefly comparing and contrasting other countries’ responses to South Korea’s, shows how well they handled the pandemic. While being a democratic country helped South Korea fight this pandemic, not all countries are, in addition, being a democratic country actually hindered some countries’ fight against the pandemic.

For example, China is a communist country and they have also been successful in containing the spread of the virus, while like South Korea, The United States of America is also a democratic country, and the situation there seems to be completely out of control, they being the country with the most cases; over 75 million cases (Worldometer, 2022).

Another important point of contrast is, not every country has the same quality healthcare and technology South Korea has. Being technologically advanced gives an enormous advantage in dealing with a rapidly spreading, complex virus.

Third-world countries, for example, don’t necessarily have the means to fight this virus but that does not mean that there is a problem with the way they run their country. When something goes wrong, people are quick to judge the leaders of a nation and its politics, but that is not necessarily always the case.

On the flip side, a country does not have to be technologically advanced to fight this virus, New Zealand for example, did simple nationwide testing and implemented a five-week lockdown. Their simple methods proved incredibly effective.

It is quite clear that South Korea had a very meticulous, systematic, thorough, and effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their government stepped in before the situation became too threatening and they managed to go from one of the countries with the most cases to being praised by the World Health Organization for the way they handled the pandemic.

There are obviously many factors at play for South Korea’s great success in their response, but this paper specifically credits it to its government’s careful involvement, South Korea’s high-quality free healthcare, its significant technological advancement, and last but not least, the citizens’ cooperation.