Combating coronavirus: The ‘secret’ of South Korea
TDS: What is the current situation in South Korea?
Hu Kang-il: The Covid-19 epidemic in Korea has been largely concentrated in a specific region of the country and within a specific religious group. By quickly identifying those infected through exhaustive testing and aggressively tracking down their contacts to prevent further spread of the virus, the situation in Korea has been much stabilised.
The number of newly confirmed cases per day has shown a sharp decline since hitting a peak at 909 on February 29. Recently, newly confirmed cases per day dropped to around 30, over 50 percent of which were infections from abroad. As of April 13, the cumulative number of Covid-19 patients in Korea recorded is 10,537, with 7,447 recovered and 217 deaths.
We continue to remain vigilant as there are still sporadic infections in some parts of the country as well as confirmed cases coming from overseas.
TDS: What is the secret to the success of effectively containing the spread of the virus?
Hu Kang-il: Korea's Covid-19 control strategy consists of robust testing to identify confirmed cases, tracing their contacts to prevent further spread, and treating those infected at the earliest possible stage, while actively engaging the public in participating in social distancing and other preventive measures.
One of the innovative methods the Korean medical community adopted was "Drive-through Testing Stations". By allowing drivers to go through the testing process without having to leave their vehicles, we could reduce the time needed for sample collection to less than 10 minutes and also limit the exposure of frontline medical workers.
Another method that a number of private hospitals in Korea adopted was a phone-booth type testing facility that enables "walk-through" of potential patients while protecting frontline medical workers who collect specimens behind clear acrylic panels. Incheon International Airport has introduced "open-air walk-through" testing stations that utilise the naturally windy outdoor environment for ventilation.
TDS: How can South Korea extend its support to Bangladesh?
Hu Kang-il: Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the governments of Bangladesh and Korea have been communicating closely with respect to their domestic situations, immigration and aviation policies, and possible measures to jointly tackle the challenge.
While exerting every effort to curb the epidemic domestically, the Korean government is prudently reviewing the numerous requests from partner countries for test kits, PPEs, and financial support. We are actively sharing best practices and technical expertise with our partners, including Bangladesh, and at the same time seeking effective ways to help Bangladesh secure necessary medical equipment in this difficult time.
TDS: What should the Bangladesh government be doing right now to contain the spread of Covid-19?
Hu Kang-il: It is encouraging that the government of Bangladesh is making full use of available resources to tackle this formidable challenge. Honourable Prime Minister Hasina seems to be fully engaged in the nationwide fight against Covid-19, making frequent public announcements and directives.
Particularly, I would like to highlight the importance of keeping up the number of testing, not only in the capital city but also in rural areas of the country. This will enable the government to see a more accurate picture of the situation and thereby enhance the effectiveness of tracking and treatment measures. Korea's experience proves that rigorous testing is one of the most important components of a successful response.
In the meantime, it is extremely important that everyone does their part to limit further spread of the virus by strictly adhering to government directives including social distancing, wearing masks, and frequent hand disinfection.
TDS: How is this virus outbreak affecting Korean companies operating here?
Hu Kang-il: Most Korean companies in Bangladesh, many of them in the RMG sector, have ceased operations in their factories in compliance with the Bangladeshi government's directives to temporarily shut down all public and private offices. As is the case with the majority of local industries during this economic slump, these Korean companies face the risk of liquidity crunch as the government holiday is prolonged.
In this regard, it is imperative the Korean companies be eligible for tax breaks and low-interest loans laid out in the government's latest financial stimulus packages. Local and foreign companies alike must be kept afloat in this difficult time lest they be driven out of business to aggravate the economic downturn.
TDS: What could be the economic impact of the virus outbreak and how can Korea join in helping Bangladesh recover?
Hu Kang-il: The Covid-19 pandemic will negatively affect the global economy in a wide range of areas including export industries, domestic consumption, jobs and income, food security, and inequality.
We do not yet know how long this global pandemic will last, but one thing is for sure. The sooner we defeat the virus, the sooner we will start seeing economic recovery. As a trusted partner, Korea will stand by Bangladesh during its fight against the disease and will continue to seek ways to provide assistance in a variety of areas.
TDS: Do you have any special message for the Bangladeshi people on overcoming the crisis?
Hu Kang-il: Korea has shown the world that it is possible to curb the spread of Covid-19 by setting priorities straight and allocating resources in the right places. The Bangladesh government too has responded swiftly with a nationwide shutdown and strict implementation, public health directives, and a series of aggressive stimulus plans. Therefore, I would like to advise the people of Bangladesh to count on their government and follow the directives in place in order to successfully overcome the crisis.