Attention drawn to coronavirus cases in S. Korea
Amid growing fears of a potential COVID-19 pandemic, South Korea's measures to bring the outbreak within its borders under control are being closely watched around the world.
Much of the attention right now is focused on the city of Daegu, where hundreds of coronavirus cases have emerged over the past week and more than half of the country's confirmed deaths have been reported, due in part to community transmission among members of a religious sect known as Shincheonji.
Meeyeon Ahn reports.
South Korea's sudden surge in novel coronavirus cases -- from 31 patients to more than 800 in less than a week -- has drawn global attention.
Foreign media outlets reporting on the situation are fixated on the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the religious sect at the center of the cluster of cases in Daegu.
The New York Times said "the snowballing outbreak among the church's followers is testing South Korea's health care system, which successfully tamed a deadly outbreak of MERS in 2015."
The Guardian wrote "there is widespread anger over the sect's secretiveness and their apparent unwillingness to cooperate with health officials," and "secrecy surrounding the sect" was making contact-tracing work more challenging.
TIME magazine meanwhile, noted that while local officials remain calm, there is a growing sense of fear COVID-19 may be reaching epidemic levels because the government missed the opportunity to contain it.
It also said the surge in virus cases may be due to the relative openness and transparency of South Korean society.
It quoted Andray Abrahmian, a visiting scholar at George Mason University Korea, as saying, "The number of cases in South Korea seems high at least in part because the country has high diagnostic capability, a free press and a democratically accountable system."
These factors are what's giving South Korean people hope the virus will be contained.
The country's real-time information systems, which were talked about by the Wall Street Journal last week, are an integral part of this, along with the government's tactics on tracking virus patients and releasing public notifications.
The BBC's Seoul correspondent shared via Twitter her own experience receiving detailed virus alerts on her phone while heading to Daegu.
Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb also tweeted about the comprehensive COVID-19 reporting from South Korean health officials and their capability to carry out virus tests on thousands per day.
Angela Rasmussen, a virology professor at Columbia University, told TBS eFM's "This Morning" show that such government efforts will be limited if there are people who continue to ignore health advice, presumably like those at the religious sect in Daegu.
Experts stress now is not the time for blame or panic, but to get educated and coordinate efforts to bring the virus under control.
Meeyeon Ahn, eFM News.■
<Photo: Yonhap News>
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