How Korea Failed to Curb Coronavirus Spread

  • By Jo Jae-hee, Yang Ji-ho

    February 21, 2020 13:43

    The coronavirus outbreak, which started in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has been playing havoc on many countries around the world, but the way they have responded to it seems to decide the course it has taken in each of them since the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a "public health emergency of international concern" on Jan. 30.

    There has been a lull in new coronavirus cases in the U.S., Vietnam, and Taiwan, which quickly banned foreign travelers from all of China. But Korea and Japan are following China in terms of new infections, ranking second and third in the world. Korea has only banned travelers only from the Chinese province of Hubei, the epicenter of the initial outbreak, and Japan those from Hubei and neighboring Zhejiang.

    The Philippines reported the first death outside China on Feb. 1. Since then, it has been successful in preventing the spread by immediately banning all visitors from China. Inside the country, the number of infected patients increased from two on Feb. 2 to only three by this Thursday.

    Vietnam also imposed the ban and saw the number of infections rise from six to 16 over the same period. It suspended all passenger flights to and from China until May 1.

    The U.S. did the same and successfully suppressed the spread with confirmed cases increasing from eight to just 15 until before it evacuated its citizens from the cruise ship Diamond Princess marooned off Yokohama, Japan. Dozens of 328 evacuees reportedly tested positive for the virus.

    The number of infected patients has grown from 16 to 24 in Taiwan, which has banned visitors from China, Hong Kong and Macau since Feb. 7. The only exception is Singapore, where the number of infected patients has soared from 16 to 84. The city state has failed to curb the spread because the virus had already become rampant there before ban of travelers from China on Feb. 1.

    People wait in line to test for coronavirus at a makeshift facility in Daegu on Thursday.

    In Korea, by contrast, the number of infected patients jumped more than nine-fold from a mere 16 on Feb. 4, when it banned visitors from Hubei Province, to 156 as of Friday morning.

    Japan did not ban travelers from Hubei and Zhejiang until Feb. 13, so the number of patients who tested positive increased from 29 that day to 93 on Thursday. On Jan. 30 there had been only four and 11 infected patients in Japan and Korea.

    Calls are growing here to ban all Chinese from entering the country, and proponents include the Korean Medical Association. Jung Eun-kyeong, the chief of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Feb. 1 said, "It would obviously be good from a quarantine perspective for fewer high-risk visitors to arrive."

    But the government has not expanded the entry ban and insists that the number of travelers from China has dropped of its own accord. Now there are worries that other countries could impose travel restrictions on Koreans if the number of infected patients increases at the current pace.

    "Korea could become a target of travel advisory by foreign countries if the trend of infections continues like this," said Prof. Kim Woo-Joo of Korea University Guro Hospital. "In that case, it would be difficult for us to do all kinds of international business." 

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