How did South Korea Dealt Better with the Pandemic than the US? Testing
(Thursday, May 27, 2021)
South Korea was one of the first countries to curtail the spread of Covid infections and bring the pandemic under control. A report by the FDA comparing the responses by the government agencies in the two countries presents starkly different approaches between the two countries despite having similar timelines. While the health agencies in South Korea put almost all their efforts into developing rapid and easily available diagnostic tests for the infection, along with associative actions such as nationwide mask mandate, social distance practices, quarantine, targeted lock-downs, and contract tracing, the US kept playing catch-up with diverse and ill-connected efforts that varied across the nation. The result, while in South Korea the pandemic had already been controlled by March-April 2020, the US saw a surge in the summer extending through the Fall and winter. South Korea had several logistical advantages over US. It had previously dealt with outbreaks of SARS viruses in the last decade which had led to a national infrastructure to support rapid diagnostic development and associated actions. South Korea had also learnt that containing the infection by rapid testing and isolation of infected people to stifle the spread, was effective and reduces the need for vaccines and therapies that take longer time and huge financial resources to develop. Although, South Korea is a much smaller country with homogenous population, and strong economy, there were some clear blunders by the US. The US committed most of its resources towards finding a vaccine for the infection in contrast to South Korean commitment to rapid diagnostic. Also, the Korean efforts to regulate the diagnostics by assuring reliable tests developed and validated primarily by the government agencies, contrasted from the US approach that allowed more than 2000 diagnostic tests mostly from other countries (mostly from China) just with notification which led to several unreliable and ironically less available testing. In the end, only about 200 of the diagnostic tests (about 10% of the initially submitted ones) were found to be credible enough even for Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs). South Korea had also passed laws in the recent past mandating testing and enforced quarantine of infected individuals, something that has still not happened in the US. The FDA report compares the efforts in the two countries in an effort to learn from this event to be better prepared for the future. And let’s hope that they did learn.
Dr. Mukesh Kumar
Founder & CEO, FDAMap
Linkedin: Mukesh Kumar, PhD, RAC