An Eyewitness Perspective on How South Korea Tackled the COVID-19 Virus

While the Trump administration is forecasting some 100 - 240k or more deaths from the coronavirus scare (and lots of hell) over the next few weeks, South Korea is well on its way in sliding out of its bell curve since the middle of March.

South Korea was also hit pretty hard with this virus, being right next door to China. The people recovering, graphed in the green color, are now also biting deeply into the blue of those who are still sick. Those who have died are colored in red in between the green and the blue. Officially, as of April 3rd, about 10,062 were hit with the virusand 174 died, with more than 6,021 who have now recovered and some 3,979 who are still sick.

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Everyone is still working and schools are in session. How did they do this?

I have been in and out of South Korea several times over the last number of years, and I do have a contact friend there who openly said the following without any fear, "This is not a deadly virus. Even though everyone is saying that, that’s because they aren’t able to get a handle on it."

So how is it that the South Koreans got a handle on this virus without stopping the economy or shutting down the country? South Korea has a crowded population of some 52 million people crammed into a geographical location about the size of Indiana,  a perfect situation for a pandemic to spread – but it didn't. And yes, when I flew in and out of Korea, it was also very apparent they took communicable diseases seriously, particularly at airports. Health is a very much part of their daily routine.

My contact friend went on to point out, "Yes, I feel very blessed to be living here in South Korea during this time. There are several factors, I think, that have made South Korea so successful in how they’ve handled it. They started screening for fevers, wearing masks, putting out hand sanitizer everywhere, and just trying to make the public aware of what was happening. They were also very proactive, in testing and separating anyone who tested positive for the virus, whether they were showing symptoms or not. Because as you are correct, the majority of the cases are quite mild. It’s just very contagious. So South Korea ended up turning some factory warehouses and training areas into large quarantine centers for anyone who had mild symptoms or no symptoms, but still tested positive for the virus. That saved our hospitals only for the small percentage that were actually seriously sick."

Those who tested negative for the virus went back to school and work. Those who tested positive for the virus with little or mild symptoms were quarantined. This allowed them to devote their energies to those who succumbed to the virus with much more serious conditions at hospitals with far less chaos. The other very important practice they did was to quarantine the elderly to stay at home to keep them from getting it in the first place. This, too, prevented hospitals from being flooded with such cases that also drive up the fatality rate quickly. In this way, they had enough beds and hospital equipment to be able to help those whose symptoms developed into something far more serious. Since this virus has a pretty big kick to it in certain people, you have to facilitate scenarios that help hospitals handle better those who succumb to it.

My contact also added, "In addition to all of that, you have to remember that this is not the first time South Korea has handled some kind of virus. They have had multiple virus outbreaks over the years, and had all of the supplies on hand, and also very calmly dealt with it from the very first day. They did not shut anything down, except for large group gatherings, and advising us to not make unnecessary trips out. On top of all that, is of course the South Korean culture. They are a group culture and will do everything they can to help and protect one another. In other cultures where they are more independent, it’s going to be a constant struggle to get everyone focused and working in the same direction."

She then made this note, sentiments which I share deeply, "It grieves my heart as I see the rest of the world struggle. I wish in some ways they could learn from South Korea, and not panic, and just deal with it one day at a time. We had our scary moment too, when we had 5000 cases in one city and it really made people nervous and afraid. But the government and the medical staff just keep handling it very matter-of-factly, and because they didn’t quarantine everyone -- it didn’t make us panic."

Telling people to sit at home for a month or two is not a solution. In such a scenario, no one is doing anything about the problem, but simply sitting at home watching the coronavirus numbers go up. Moreover, being idle at home is a recipe for moral and economic disaster. Such a lockdown is a breeding ground for domestic abuse, child abuse, alcoholism, drugs, suicides, and any manner of other troubles – including excessive internet viewership which is already an epidemic without the virus.

As bad as this virus is, it is not the Black Plague or the Spanish Flu. The Spanish Flu was a youth killer that exterminated people by the millions, coming out of a gigantic world war at a time when the earth’s population was much less dense than it is now. The most important virtue the South Koreans have demonstrated with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic is they did not panic. Neither is it a coincidence that South Korea has very strong Judeo-Christian values among the near-third of the population that profess Christianity, and has a great traditional respect for the elderly. It will not be saddled with a two trillion-dollar stimulus package coming out the other side of this.  General Douglas MacArthur would be proud.

Mark Musser is a part-time missionary, author, and a farmer, depending on what time of day and year it is. His home is in Olympia, Washington, but he spends most of his time on the mission field in the former Soviet Union. He is currently a doctoral candidate at Corban University in Salem, Oregon, and is a contributing Writer for the Cornwall Alliance.  His book Nazi Ecology provides a sobering history lesson on the philosophical foundations of the early German green movement, which was absorbed by National Socialism in the 1930s and proved to be a powerful undercurrent during the Holocaust.

A shorter version of this article was posted April 1, 2020 on Dispensational Publishing House.

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