Two weeks earlier than China revealed it was investigating a cluster of mysterious pneumonia circumstances in Wuhan on the finish of 2019 – what the world now is aware of as COVID-19 – high South Korean well being officers spoke gathered for a quarterly tabletop train to plan their response to a theoretical well being menace.
The hazard ? A never-before-seen pathogen rising in China that was inflicting a spike in pneumonia circumstances.
The timing was a fluke. However the conflict sport and the selection of topic weren’t. Korea had discovered painful classes from an outbreak simply 4 years earlier of Center East respiratory syndrome, or MERS. The nation overhauled the way it responded to illness, giving it a world edge when COVID-19 hit.
In a world making an attempt to maneuver away from the virus, despite the fact that it nonetheless kills 1000’s of individuals a day, Korean officers are as soon as once more reviewing their method, looking for info for the subsequent pandemic – which they are saying may hit inside a decade.
The inspiration of Korea’s COVID-19 technique, thought of a world success in averting widespread lockdowns and deaths, rests on a 466-page audit report of the Korea Illness Management and Prevention Company’s response. illnesses and different well being authorities to the MERS disaster. In its sequence of criticisms, the paper famous that insufficient testing and isolation of sufferers with MERS had fueled the unfold, as did gaps in info sharing throughout the healthcare system.
“We’ve got discovered the significance of discovering sufferers shortly and separating those that are uncovered to a virus earlier than they present signs,” mentioned Kyong Ran Peck, commissioner at KDCA, which oversees public well being, together with infectious illnesses and vaccines.
Due to MERS, when COVID-19 emerged, Korea already had an intensive test-and-trace system in place that allowed authorities to give attention to outbreaks and include them earlier than they unfold. wider.
Nonetheless, the KDCA’s assessment of its COVID-19 response has uncovered gaps that may inform officers’ method to the subsequent well being menace, which they are saying is prone to be a respiratory virus.
“We’re evolving our insurance policies based mostly on previous knowledge to focus on high-risk teams of individuals and high-risk services,” Peck, 60, mentioned in her first interview with worldwide media since taking up. head of the company in Might. Beforehand director of the Korea Society of Infectious Illnesses, Peck served as a professor of infectious illnesses for greater than 20 years.
Measures like curfews, rolled out in lots of elements of the world at the beginning of the pandemic, weren’t efficient in containing what was a way more contagious virus than MERS.
The emergence of much more transmissible COVID-19 variants has led to limits on gatherings and social distancing measures have additionally change into much less potent, Peck mentioned from the company’s leafy 98-acre headquarters in Osong, about 45 minutes by bullet prepare from Seoul. It additionally homes the Nationwide Institute of Well being and the Ministry of Meals and Drug Security, the Korean FDA, in addition to different analysis institutes, which facilitates coordination in the course of the COVID-19 response.
Air flow programs throughout Korea, particularly in high-risk locations like nursing houses, have to be improved. Methods to raised help healthcare employees additionally have to be addressed, Peck mentioned, given the burnout they’ve skilled throughout COVID-19.
As a part of the assessment, the company can also be assessing different scorching subjects: together with whether or not faculties ought to shut, the effectiveness of journey restrictions and the gathering of restrictions to cease a brand new menace – and masks. Their findings are anticipated to be printed in a white paper on Korea’s response to COVID-19, in line with Peck, who didn’t give particulars on the timeline.
It’s price listening to what these consultants say. South Korea had one of many lowest COVID-19 dying charges on this planet, with the third-fewest deaths per 100,000 folks among the many 38 members of the Group for Financial Co-operation and Improvement. It ranked solely behind Japan and New Zealand, in line with the World Well being Group. But Korea has detected a complete of 26 million infections, the fourth highest within the OECD, resulting from its big testing program.
Above all, the nation has by no means skilled large-scale confinement. Its vaccination charge was the best on this planet this summer time, earlier than widespread surveillance eased, with a median of two.4 injections for every individual, in line with the WHO.
This success is essentially resulting from this preparation carried out in December 2019.
“On the time, we thought the subsequent virus can be the flu or the coronavirus,” mentioned Cheon-Kwon Yoo, director of the Workplace of Infectious Illness Prognosis Management, an company throughout the KDCA. “We had ready for the subsequent pandemic, however we had no concept it might come so quickly.”
Crucially, consultants devised a lab take a look at that dominated out strains of coronavirus that trigger the widespread chilly, in addition to SARS and MERS viruses. Accredited inside weeks, it meant Korea may diagnose COVID-19 even earlier than its genetic make-up was identified, placing the nation nicely forward of different nations struggling to get testing began.
An elite epidemiological investigation group tracked these diagnoses, tracing each publicity and in the end slowing the unfold of infections, mentioned Hallym College lung specialist Ki-suck Jung, a member of the Korea COVID Process Drive. -19.
Initially, this concerned a cellphone name to every HIV-positive individual to debate their actions, adopted by calls to the premises for affirmation. However the caseload turned unsustainable as circumstances grew, so authorities switched to a QR code check-in system and scrutinized bank card spending and cellphone location knowledge – one other technique blocked because of the MERS outbreak – together with CCTV footage to trace folks.
A slew of specialised hospital beds that isolate sufferers and management airflow have been put in in medical services throughout the nation within the aftermath of MERS, serving to Korea avert waves of COVID-19 deaths seen in different elements of the world.
Because the world seeks to place COVID-19 up to now, the KDCA is set to study from the worst international well being disaster in a technology. Whereas the menace was international, responses to COVID-19 had been remarkably disparate. Worldwide communication and cooperation to combat pandemics is vital, Peck mentioned. “We additionally discovered that we will not do that alone.”
The subsequent problem could come before anticipated.
Whereas pandemics beforehand occurred in 20- to 30-year increments, Peck mentioned, solely a decade handed between the emergence of swine flu in 2009 and COVID-19.
Elevated international journey and local weather change are shortening pandemic cycles greater than ever, and it’s crucial that the world works collectively to organize.
“Nobody is aware of precisely what the subsequent pandemic will appear to be, however you have to be ready for the worst-case state of affairs,” Peck mentioned.
“It might be one other SARS-CoV-2,” she mentioned, referring to the scientific identify of the virus. “It might be worse.”
(With assist from Sangmi Cha.)
#nation #prepared #COVID #hes #menace