A key UK Government adviser has praised South Korea for bringing Covid-19 under control in its capital city of Seoul through extensive testing and contact tracing.
In a Downing Street press briefing, deputy chief scientific adviser Professor Dame Angela McLean said ministers should look to South Korea as a “fine example” and emulate their policy.
This comes after the Korean Centre for Disease Control said last week there no new domestic cases of Covid-19 for first time since February.
What did South Korea do?
The country had its first confirmed coronavirus case on January 20, nine days before the UK reported its first case in York.
South Korea took quick action to slow the spread of the Sars-Cov-2 coronavirus.
Private labs were opened up to allow rapid testing and the country instituted drive-through testing centres, allowing quicker identification of those who were infected but not displaying symptoms.
By the end of February, the country was testing more than 20,000 people a day.
Positive cases were followed with extensive contract tracing, and a central tracking app, Corona 100m, was used to inform citizens of known cases within 100 metres.
Officials also began screening all people arriving at airports when the number of new cases spiked in mid-March.
By early April, nearly 500,000 people had been tested and officials last week said there were no new domestic cases.
Why has it worked?
Rapid testing and contact tracing has been at the heart of South Korea’s strategy.
Swift action helped officials identify those who were infected but asymptomatic, and rigorous quarantine measures were put in place to keep infection rates low.
Even when the disease was spreading, South Korea did not go into a full lockdown, with people still allowed to go to work.
The country has recorded 254 deaths associated with coronavirus while the UK passed 32,000 on Tuesday.
South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha said in a recent Covid-19 taskforce meeting that testing was “absolutely critical” in stemming the spread of the virus.
The Korean Centre for Disease Control has subsequently relaxed some of its social distancing guidelines and is expected to ease more restrictions in coming days.
Can the UK follow its example?
Prof McLean said: “It is a large country like we are. They did have quite a big outbreak, actually, that they brought under control with contact tracing.
“I think they are a fine example to us and we should try to emulate what they have achieved.”
Ministers abandoned contact tracing on March 12 as the virus spread beyond control in the community, but with the spread coming under control after the lockdown was imposed on March 23, the approach will be revived to help ease restrictions.
The Government has worked to ramp up testing, managing to hit a goal of 100,000 a day, and will use contact tracing of infected individuals to ease restrictions.
It will be accompanied by an NHS app, called NHSX, which will alert people if someone they interacted with has displayed symptoms or tested positive for the virus.