South Korea proves pandemic response requires more than money


JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we go to South Korea to
see what seems to be working in the fight against COVID-19. The government there is spending nearly $10
billion to fight the country’s outbreak. As special correspondent Bruce Harrison discovers,
money is just part of the fight. It also takes communities willing to come
together. BRUCE HARRISON: Kim Kyoung-Soo took off work
as a bus driver to pitch in on what’s become the national priority here, defeating COVID-19. Now he’s volunteering at this drive-through
test clinic. KIM KYOUNG-SOO, Bus Driver (through translator):
As citizens, we’re here for the safety of our fellow citizens, to volunteer for Goyang
City. BRUCE HARRISON: Anyone can pull in, with or
without symptoms. This local office worker is here just as a
precaution. He tells nurses he recently smoked a cigarette
with someone who may have been in contact with infected people. After taking his temperature, they say he
seems symptom-free for now, but to come back if that changes. Others receive a much more thorough exam based
on their physical symptoms and potential exposure to confirmed patients. Thousands of Koreans have driven through this
clinic in the past two weeks. It’s free, takes 10 minutes, and you get results
in two to three days. LEE JAE JOON, Mayor of Goyang City, South
Korea: Staying sick longer only increases costs and puts people’s lives in danger. You must find them quickly, and you must not
be frugal about the costs. It’s the state’s basic duty to support the
lives of its people. BRUCE HARRISON: More than 200,000 South Koreans
have now been tested. Top health officials gathered this week in
Seoul to share their results, and they didn’t skimp on precautions in a room full of journalists. KIM GANG-LIP, South Korean Vice Health Minister:
With a transparent and open society as the goal, we recommend a response system that
blends voluntary public participation with creative application of advanced technology. BRUCE HARRISON: Text messages alert the public
to the location of confirmed cases, and quarantined patients update the government on their health
via smartphone app. Seoul has rejected citywide lockdowns and
left its borders open to everyone except those coming from the hardest-hit region of China. LEE TAE-HO, South Korean Second Vice Minister
of Foreign Affairs: The general consensus among public health care professionals seems
to be that travel bans are not effective in containing contagious illnesses, and can make
things worse, even, by fueling a sense of complacency. BRUCE HARRISON: Korea’s neighbors China and
Japan disagree, banning travelers from South Korea’s worst-affected regions. Despite tougher quarantine measures, Japan
is struggling ahead of the prized Summer Olympics. South Korea largely credits mass testing for
its relatively low death ratio among hard-hit areas. The country’s ratio is less than 1 percent,
compared to more than 4 percent in Iran and 6 percent in Italy. And today, during a Pentagon videoconference,
the top U.S. commander in South Korea also credited testing for keeping COVID-19 off
U.S. bases, testing initially done by the Koreans. GEN. ROBERT ABRAMS, Commander, U.S. Forces Korea:
They have been extraordinary partners. We typically got our test results turned around
in 24 hours. BRUCE HARRISON: One U.S. service member and
eight others connected to the U.S. military here have tested positive, but General Robert
Abrams said strict controls and transparency prevented a larger outbreak. GEN. ROBERT ABRAMS: For example, daily livestreamed
community briefings by our garrison and installation commanders, with questions and answers, as
well as multiple virtual town halls with our senior commanders. BRUCE HARRISON: Most Korean cases have been
limited to the country’s southeast, but recent cluster infections in Seoul may test the Korean
model for success. This testing center was set up specifically
for residents and employees of this building, where there’s been a large outbreak of COVID-19. And as you can see behind me, a gentleman
has just sat down. He’s beginning the testing procedure. The outbreak here has really concerned this
community. A lot of small businesses, restaurants and
cafes have closed down temporarily. And perhaps more concerning is that right
along this area runs one of Seoul’s most busy metro lines. Typically, hundreds of thousands of people
transfer at Sindorim station every day. There’s now just a trickle during rush hour,
now that there’s been an outbreak up the road. One area in this neighborhood where foot traffic
hasn’t slowed is outside of pharmacies. The government has limited customers to just
two masks a week to make sure health care workers get what they need first. Still, there’s no panic here, as people in
this community come together to cope. LEE, College Freshman (through translator):
I’d like to buy more masks, but I know, if I did that, others wouldn’t be able to. So, I feel I shouldn’t. BRUCE HARRISON: He says foreigners who don’t
find masks necessary may have a change of heart as the coronavirus continues its deadly
global march. “You have to experience it personally,” he
says, “to understand.” For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Bruce Harrison
in Seoul.

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