lee44_Chung Sung-JunGetty Images_southkoreacoronavirustest Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Building South Korea’s Post-Pandemic Economy

South Korea has rightly received international acclaim for its COVID-19 response. It should now apply the same ambition and acumen to lay the groundwork for a more productive, sustainable, and inclusive economy.

SEOUL – South Korea seems to be winning the battle against COVID-19. It has been recording little more than a handful of new cases per day for weeks, and though it is now preparing for that rate to rise, following the relaxation of social-distancing guidelines, it seems likely to remain in control of the outbreak. The bigger question is whether it can contain the economic fallout.

It took South Korea just two months to tame the first wave of COVID-19. Despite its proximity to China, where the outbreak’s first epicenter was located, it has kept infection and fatality rates much lower than the United States and the hardest-hit European countries. In fact, its death toll – 267 people, as of May 24 – amounts to just five per million population, compared to 300 in the US, 544 in Italy, 555 in the United Kingdom, and 600 in Spain.

Having endured outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2015, South Korea’s leaders knew that containing COVID-19 would require fast and aggressive action. So, just three weeks after the release of the novel coronavirus’s genetic sequence, they granted fast-track approval for test kits. They then launched a massive testing campaign and an intensive contact-tracing program, which used cellphone GPS records, credit-card payment information, and CCTV footage to identify and inform people who may have been exposed to the virus.