Publication: Country Case Study: The Republic of Korea

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Lee, Taejin
Kim, Hongsoo
Cho, Sung-il
You, Myoungsoon
Chung, Wankyo
Moon, Juhyeon
This case study aims to describe the Republic of Korea’s preparedness and response to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and the resultant impact of the pandemic on the health of its citizens and the economy. Korea has been recording COVID 19-related epidemiological data since January 20, 2020, when the first imported confirmed case of COVID-19 occurred. Since then, Korea has undergone four surge waves, which posed different challenges and cumulative negative impacts. The government implemented and revised social distancing policy measures, as appropriate, to maintain a balance between acceptable risk and disease burden, while promoting vaccination. The fiscal policy also has kept an expansionary stance to cushion the economic effects of the pandemic. The report has four chapters, with subtopics. The Preparedness chapter describes the policy and governance measures, as well as the health care system, that facilitated prompt surveillance and early policy making. The Response chapter describes seven components, including the response of the government, the health system, and the public, to contain COVID-19; vaccination; protecting vulnerable people; innovation through leapfrogging; and measures to contain COVID-19 from a human capital perspective. Each component describes how Korea has dealt with the pandemic. The third chapter emphasizes the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the progress of universal health coverage (UHC) and sustainability, and the last chapter discusses lessons learned for the future and for other countries, including best practices and challenges. Korea has been relatively successful in containing the pandemic, reducing its economic impact, and maintaining public trust during the prolonged period. Several factors have contributed to this. The government structure facilitated expedited decision-making and empowered public-private partnership for a timely response, backed by a concrete legal basis and institutional infrastructure. Transparent risk communication and information disclosure, with specific guidelines, allowed redistribution of resources and infection control activities. It is always important to learn from previous experiences to be well prepared for the next crisis. Even if regulations are in place to effectively respond to new infectious diseases, it is necessary to be open to the revisability of the legal framework, depending on the actual situation. Extensive testing and contact tracing combined with flexible social distancing measures are highly effective in containing the spread of infectious diseases and reducing the number of new cases, which in turn helps to alleviate the burden on the health system, until vaccines and medicines are developed and become available. It is important to provide appropriate care for patients, depending on the severity of disease, and to reduce the burden on the health system to minimize mortality. However, it should be borne in mind that policy measures used in Korea such as extensive testing, tracing, and social distancing could not be successful without dedicated health professionals as well as the cooperation of citizens. It is necessary to devise effective communication methods, as the public’s perception of the government’s briefing and text messages deteriorates during a prolonged pandemic. For policy makers, it is necessary to determine an optimal level of social distancing, not only to save as many lives as possible, but also to ensure the livelihood of the citizens.
Lee, Taejin; Kim, Hongsoo; Cho, Sung-il; You, Myoungsoon; Chung, Wankyo; Moon, Juhyeon. 2022. Country Case Study : The Republic of Korea. © Washington, DC: World Bank. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.
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