Jaewon Son - KIGA Committee Member, Youth4IG Outreach Coordinator
The Republic of Korea was never in lockdown and social distancing was voluntary for the citizens, yet it has recorded no new locally transmitted cases on April 30th for the first time since its COVID-19 outbreak, not to mention no single transmission case during the parliamentary election.
ICT plays a significant role in flattening the curve in COVID-19 in Korea. Though Korea’s measures using Information and Communications Technology (ICT) could not be fully followed by other countries due to a difference in ICT, digitalization, and state capacity, there are still lessons that can be learned from Korea’s responses to COVID-19.
ICT and Public Information Disclosure
Utilizing the cellular broadcasting service (CBS), Korea has been provided real-time information on confirmed cases within a defined geographic area with emergency alert text messages. In addition, open database website and mobile application have been developed by the Seoul Metropolitan Government to provide key information such as itinerary of the confirmed patients after developing symptoms, the nearest location of COVID-19 screening centers, and ‘clean zones’ which are the places that have been disinfected after confirmed patients’ visits. This information enabled the citizens to monitor themselves if they have visited the same place at the same time as the patients. In addition, publicly distributed face masks have been distributed efficiently as its real-time data were provided through mobile applications and websites.
ICT and Social Distancing
Drive-Thru and Walk-Thru testing stations have been developed for the quick test within 10 minutes with minimal contact where the results are provided within 3 days and sent by Short Message Service (SMS). Moreover, the doctors are temporarily allowed to perform telemedicine to avoid group contagion and keep social distancing. For incoming travelers and people under self-quarantine, mobile applications have been utilized to monitor their symptoms, conduct self-diagnosis, and provide quick medical advice.
AI and COVID-19 Treatment
Artificial Intelligence (AI) plays a significant role in reducing the time of developing new medicine based on medical and virus data. By using deep learning algorithms, AI is being deployed to predict the interaction between drug and protein and identify commercially available medicines for the COVID-19. To support finding candidate substances for COVID-19 treatment efficiently, its platform has been developed by an AI-based drug discovery startup.
ICT and Social Welfare
The Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism has been supporting online religious activities by producing guidance document on using the online live streaming platform, and implementing a call center for technical support. In addition, the Korean government has formed a partnership with wireless telecommunications operators to provide unlimited LTE and Wi-Fi for each religious group up to one mobile device.
As the classes are broadcasted on TV channels for elementary, middle and high school students, Ministry of Education provided students from low-income families with free internet and mobile data, while supporting the rental of necessary IT devices for online classes. This measure helped to increase access for online classes and ensure equal opportunity for education.
To ease the economic impact, “emergency livelihood allowance” has been provided by the Seoul Metropolitan Government to who make less than 100% of the median income up to 500,000 won (389 USD) depending on the number of household members by gift vouchers or prepaid cards that can be used within the community. In addition, the central government will be providing an “emergency disaster relief payments” for 70% of households up to 1 million won (822 USD). Low-income families will be receiving the payments in cash without applying for it while the other households will receive the payment after application by gift vouchers or prepaid cards besides receiving it as a point in their existing credit or check card.
There has been a claim that “collectivist and obedient East Asian cultures” made it possible to flatten a curve when Korea had hundreds of thousands of people democratically calling for the resignation and impeached the ex-president. Yet, East Asia, including Republic of Korea, has already experienced Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which made it possible to be prepared for a pandemic, not to mention the experience of wearing surgical face masks.
Based on the previous experience, Korea has introduced several measures against COVID-19 using ICT to flatten the curve in COVID-19 in the country. Without the use of the internet, it would not have been possible to provide the key information and support early diagnosis for maintaining the distancing. I hope Korea’s experience may serve as insightful references for the countries implementing their measures to combat COVID-19.