The Secrets Behind Korea’s Low Number of COVID-19 Cases

Updated: Apr 5

A comparison of legislative actions taken by the US and Korea


Photo by BBC


The deaths from COVID-19 in the US continue to rise since its surge in March. The number of infected cases nationally surpassed 2 million – almost one-third of the world’s total confirmed cases.


One country in particular, however, has taken quick and effective measures to slow the spread of COVID.


Until now, there have only been 11,000 confirmed cases in Korea and they ended their peak of infection in late February.



In January, the US first issued its travel ban oan foreigners from China to stop infected visitors from coming in. At this time, China hit 200-400 new cases each day, and the US was not particularly alarmed and did not consider the pandemic a big threat.


In February, COVID-19 cases began to sprinkle on the US maps, particularly in states with higher populations of Chinese/Chinese Americans. The Center of Disease and Control then lifted restrictions on testing for COVID-19.


March was the turning point. The Supreme court announced its closure to the public indefinitely - since there was a sharp rise in new cases of the coronavirus.


Once testing became more available, the number of carriers went from a few to hundreds a day. People panicked and started to stock items in preparation for a national disaster.


Although the government panicked too - it was unexpected that coronavirus would be a threat in the US - the government acted quickly to announce social distancing guidelines and stay-home orders for most states.


At the end of March, California declared a state of emergency as well as many other states.


As for stay-home orders, most states announced extensions beyond anticipated dates. In Michigan, they issued three extensions respectively on April 9, April 24, and May 28. On June 1, the order was lifted, however, restrictions remained. Most businesses reopened but travel was still prohibited.


To counter unemployment rise and economic recession, the US passed a coronavirus relief bill - which granted large businesses, small businesses, individuals, public projects, and hospital funds to provide substantial support.


Individuals who made less than 75k annually were paid $1200. So far, Congress approved $300 billion in aid payments to individuals and more than $800 billion to assist large and small businesses.


These relief packages were crucial to the US economy - it was likely that the economy would crash without financial relief for individuals and corporations. However, due to the government’s late action and some citizens’ rejection of social distancing, the number of coronavirus cases is still rising throughout the nation.


Meanwhile, South Korea has learned much from other countries’ legislative action. They successfully brought COVID-19 to a standstill without lockdown and infringing civil liberties.


The most important factor was its early action. It carried out countermeasures needed against a shortage of medical and non-medical products such as test kits, facial masks, cotton swabs, hand sanitizers, etc.


The country controlled the situation through various travel bans and rigorous quarantine measures for those who return from foreign countries. In February, South Korea had already started testing hundreds of thousands of asymptomatic people.


The government was also extremely transparent in its number of cases of COVID-19 - it employed a tracking app, which showed citizens of known cases within 100 meters of where they were - which informed them on important guidelines. This helped them know where and where not to go.


Korean citizens also acted cooperatively - the South Korean culture that had traditionally rejected authoritarianism surprisingly followed government measures on all levels.


However, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing- there were multiple occasions where groups of people were exposed to the virus in night clubs and parties. Foreigners - especially Chinese - living in South Korea also faced prejudice and racism.


Other nations would be wise to copy South Korea’s measures and systems responding to COVID-19. Korea has accomplished much without limiting the citizens’ freedoms - it proves that the U.S. government could have taken much more active measures before Americans chant liberties and refuse to follow stay-home order with millions of confirmed cases.


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