Coronavirus: Reflecting on South Korea

On Jan. 27, a senior infectious disease official from the South Korean government summoned the country’s top 20 medical companies to a meeting. He told them that they urgently needed to develop an effective test to diagnose coronavirus infections. At the time, there were only four infected people in the country, but neighboring Wuhan was a clear warning of what the future might hold.

Seven days after that meeting, the Korean government approved one of the options that was presented. Seven weeks later, Korea had implemented more than 290,000 tests in a country of 52 million inhabitants, and detected 8,000 cases of infection.

Korea had also reduced the incidence of daily cases from 9,009 to only 93. In other words, South Korea had flattened the contagion curve at its start, before it exploded.

On the same day the first case of coronavirus was detected in the South Korea, the first case was detected in the United States. Until yesterday, this immense and wealthy country of 330 million inhabitants had conducted only about 90,000 tests and detected 7,000 cases. Compared with South Korea, the United States had lost precious time.

The hidden number of those infected in the United States could be enormous. If only 30% or of the population – about 96 million people – the number of deaths in that country could reach 480,000, as I wrote yesterday in this space, according to a study by Dr. James Lawler, an expert from the University of Nebraska, as reported by The New York Times.

The comparison of the Korean and U.S. situations comes from a special report produced for Reuters World News, by Chad Terhune, Dan Levine, Hyunjoo Jin and Jean Lanhee Lee.

The fundamental difference in the two countries, and perhaps among all those fighting the pandemic, is the speed with which countries begin to measure the damage.

Mexico is behind in this regard, and is even pushing back. One could read the following notice yesterday at a prestigious private laboratory: ”By order of the Ministry of Health, at present, we cannot perform the coronavirus test (COVID-19). As soon as we are authorized, we will resume this service.”

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About Patricia Simoni 78 Articles
I first edited and translated for Watching America from 2009 through 2011, recently returning and rediscovering the pleasure of working with dedicated translators and editors. Latin America is of special interest to me. In the mid-60’s, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Chile, and later lived for three years in Mexico, in the states of Oaxaca and Michoacán and in Mexico City. During those years, my work included interviewing in anthropology research, teaching at a bilingual school in the federal district, and conducting workshops in home nursing care for disadvantaged inner city women. I earned a BS degree from Wagner College, masters and doctoral degrees from WVU, and was a faculty member of the WVU School of Nursing for 27 years. In that position, I coordinated a two-year federal grant (FIPSE) at WVU for an exchange of nursing students with the University of Guanajuato, Mexico. Presently a retiree, I live in Morgantown, West Virginia, where I enjoy traditional Appalachian fiddling with friends. Working toward the mission of WA, to help those in the U.S. see ourselves as others see us, gives me a sense of purpose.

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