In line with the current Home of Commons report on the UK’s pandemic response, one of many authorities’s key failings was to imagine that the success of nations like South Korea in controlling the virus couldn’t be replicated in Britain. This resolution to disregard approaches that have been proving profitable elsewhere was one of many UK’s largest oversights early within the pandemic.
Nonetheless, the report itself falls into an identical lure. It regards South Korea’s pandemic response as distinctive attributable to its superior use of digital expertise, ignoring the truth that the nation additionally relied rather a lot on old style social interventions – contact tracing, quarantine and isolating circumstances – aided by boots on the bottom.
To fight COVID and future pandemics, governments have to heed the teachings of those social interventions and never simply the technological ones. South Korea teaches us that high-tech options may help shield in opposition to illness, however these work along with social interventions – interventions that the UK has not used as successfully.
What a world-beating system appears to be like like
The UK authorities had the ambition of making a “world-beating” test-trace-isolate system. But the Home of Commons report concludes that England’s system has produced little impact, regardless of nice expense. Different international locations too haven’t been in a position to comprise COVID sufficiently with out resorting to draconian lockdowns. Nonetheless, South Korea has been often cited as an exception.
Whereas South Korea has needed to introduce some management measures to restrict the unfold of the virus – there have been curfews for companies and limits on the scale of gatherings in 2021 – it has prevented full lockdowns and border closures whereas conserving cumulative confirmed COVID circumstances comparatively low. It’s value remembering that South Korea is without doubt one of the world’s most densely populated massive international locations.
Key to this has been quarantine measures for travellers arriving within the nation, which have been launched very swiftly, and the nation’s extremely efficient test-trace-isolate system. This fastidiously designed course of offers native assist for these in isolation, whereas monitoring them and sanctioning non-compliance.
Sure, cell phone information and different types of surveillance have been used to hint individuals who might need the virus. However as soon as a optimistic case is confirmed, it’s human intervention that ensures these individuals don’t unfold the virus additional.
A case officer from the native council is assigned to work with affected households. They convey with contaminated individuals all through the self-isolation interval. After initially making contact over the cellphone to tell individuals of the necessity to self-isolate and the rules to observe, case officers then ship a stay-at-home package as discreetly as potential to guard the particular person’s privateness.
This native council-funded package comprises necessities that stop the particular person from needing to exit. They obtain meals, drink, bin liners, a thermometer for monitoring their situation, and face masks and hand sanitiser to assist stop additional an infection. Kits may also be tailor-made, as an illustration, to incorporate sure meals or drugs – and even pet meals.
The case officer is the contaminated particular person’s main level of contact, offering recommendation and assist over the 14 days of self-isolation. Once more, expertise performs a job right here. A smartphone app can be utilized by the case officer to watch the particular person’s self-reported signs and to verify (by way of GPS) they aren’t breaking quarantine. However its affect shouldn’t be overstated. The app is necessary, however those that don’t personal a smartphone are nonetheless in a position to get assist by way of cellphone calls and textual content messages.
Individuals self-isolating can contact their case employee when further assist is required, as an illustration, with pressing day by day enterprise comparable to banking or pet care. As a result of the connection works each methods, this encourages compliance by way of the creation of a social bond. The great and individualised assist given to these isolating primarily ensures compliance by eradicating limitations fairly than punishing infractions.
The necessity to tackle the lack of earnings that self-isolating individuals face was additionally recognized early on, with modest funds of as much as $US374 (£270) made simply obtainable.
The effectiveness of those interventions is evident: revealed information suggests non-compliance with self-isolation guidelines has been extraordinarily low in South Korea all through the pandemic. Those that do break the foundations threat shedding the monetary assist that the federal government offers.
Not breaking the foundations has additionally been inspired as a social norm by way of day by day reporting within the media on the variety of individuals not adhering to isolation. Usually, that is not more than 4 individuals a day – in a rustic of 55 million.
Classes as but unlearned
The South Korean expertise reveals simply how efficient domestically delivered and individually tailor-made self-isolation methods might be. However fairly than searching for to duplicate South Korean success, politicians, consultants and the media within the west have repeatedly prompt that this efficiency is predicated on intrusive data-surveillance strategies enabled by a compliant nationwide tradition that can’t be replicated of their international locations.
The Home of Commons report means that if the UK have been to attempt to emulate South Korea, the teachings to be realized concern the usage of high-tech surveillance methods and complete digital contact tracing. This misses out most of the core parts of South Korea’s pandemic response that assist be sure individuals isolate and quarantine as wanted.
Specializing in applied sciences to undertake sooner or later ignores the extra instantly transferable classes on how one can break chains of an infection in a fast-moving pandemic. It’s about time we acknowledged that complete, “shoe-leather” public well being methods ought to be the bedrock of containing present and future illness outbreaks. A lot of what has labored in South Korea is outstanding solely in that different international locations – such because the UK – have made no effort to duplicate it.
Choon Key Chekar, Joshua R Moon and Michael Hopkins obtain funding from UK Analysis and Innovation (Financial and Social Analysis Council) for the mission "Optimising COVID-19 Testing Techniques" (ES/V004441/1).