- South Korea has taken a different approach to most countries. In March, schools, public amenities and other gathering places were closed, but no lockdown was imposed except for local curfews in some areas
- The South Korean response has primarily relied on technological solutions rather than legal ones. In particular they have focussed very early on mass production of tests and used of information and communications technology to test widely, perform contact tracing, and disseminate precise, quick information about local infection rates to people. This includes tracking individuals' movements using facial recognition in cctv, tracking bank transactions and mobile phone usage
- Apps are used to alert people to risks, and also to monitor their location if they are ordered into isolation. Fines may be issued for breaking quarantine, up to $2500
- Although no names or addresses are given in public alerts about local infections, privacy concerns have been raised and some people have been publicly identified as a consequence of the alert apps
- Restrictions that were put in place have been easing since mid-April. The government has issued guidance on risk minimisation, and many facilities are reopening as long as they follow the guidance
Technology-driven response to the coronavirus
South Korea has taken a different approach from the majority of the countries analysed in this report. In March the government recommended that indoor sports, religious and entertainment facilities suspend operations. Schools were shut down, and a curfew was imposed in some areas, but no large-scale lockdown on South Koreans was imposed.
Instead, the government focuses on mass producing coronavirus test kits earlier than many other hard-hit countries. And more importantly, the key to South Korea's response has been the use of information and communications technology to test widely, perform contact tracing, and disseminate information about the outbreak. The government communicates how many people are infected in each geographic area and city in real
time, constantly updating national and local government websites that track cases and the number of residents tested. This is done by tracking people's movements through:
- CCTV and face-recognition technology
- the tracking of bank card transactions
- the tracking of mobile phone usage
The government also developed free smartphone apps that send people emergency text alerts about infections in their local area. People ordered into self-quarantine must download another app, which alerts officials if a patient ventures out of isolation. Fines for violations can reach $2,500. Apps are also being used to diagnose users with a cold or connecting them to a doctor by phone, where they can screened for coronavirus symptoms and given a preliminary diagnosis. Another app gives users up-to-date information about the number and type of face masks currently available at any given store for purchase.
Alerts tell South Koreans where an infected person has been, and when. No names or addresses are given, but some are still managing to identify people. The public has even decided two of the infected were having an affair.
The next phase
The Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters on 22 April announced the first draft of the government's 'basic guidelines for maintaining social distancing in daily life' that both individuals and social groups must follow under lifestyle quarantine. The government is due to review such guidelines on 5 May.
Since mid-April, facilities have been allowed to restart operations as long as they comply with disinfection guidelines. In addition, the Korea Baseball Organization will be able to hold games again - albeit without an audience - and churches will also face fewer restrictions.