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Korea leads in managing COVID-19 crisis with info-tech

By Kim Yoo-chul

In the midst of an economic lockdown unprecedented in modern times, the question facing governments across the globe is how to effectively restart their engines.

Several policy papers from public health experts provide a roadmap, and countries around the world have begun to announce their own paths, largely based on these policy recommendations.

It's fair to say the key to keeping new COVID-19 infections down as demonstrated in Asia will be identifying new cases quickly before they spread the virus to others. This is a feat made difficult by both the long incubation period and the asymptomatic nature of the novel coronavirus in many patents. This is a labor-intensive process as it requires widespread diagnostic testing.

Simply put, technology can help. The little devices that nearly everyone carries around all day such as mobile phones can do a remarkably thorough job of "contact tracing."

South Korea is leading the way as the government has been able to use data from mobile phones and also credit cards to track down the contacts of virus carriers, according to recent analysis by Bernstein Research, an independent researcher affiliated with AllianceBernstein, a global asset management company.

Lisa Bedell Clive, the lead writer of the 41-page analysis co-authored by nine others, appreciated South Korea's efforts to move forward with "integrated and shared data" and "aggressive testing" initiatives in terms of controlling the virus spread. She is a Wall Street analyst at Bernstein who specializes in the healthcare sector.

"South Korea has maintained some semblance of an economy, but it's been hard work. They've rapidly rolled out broad testing infrastructure and set up significant abilities to trace contacts and share information," the analysis noted. "They've had to impose things that Western populations may not be fully keen on (e.g. fairly invasive monitoring through cell phone location tracking, credit card usage and other technologies."

South Korea, the world's most-wired society, is one of the first few countries to slow the spread of COVID-19. The current death toll from the virus is 254 as of May 5. Confirmed cases in the country peaked in February and have since diminished gradually. The country is actually expanding testing as well as relying on other technology-driven solutions.

More precisely, Seoul announced plans to introduce location-tracking bracelets for people who are self-quarantining but break the quarantine. This comes following reports of people circumventing a government-mandated app downloaded to their phone by leaving the device at home when going out, government officials said. The bracelets would instantly alert health authorities if people tried to cut them off, they added.

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