Flattening the curve on COVID-19: What is the secret of Korea’s successful response?
With the spread of COVID-19, the world is facing an unprecedented economic, social and political crisis. Global leaders and experts said COVID-19 is and will be “the gravest challenge since the World War II.” The number of new coronavirus cases increases exponentially peaking at 909 new infections on February 29 in Korea. But new case has dropped significantly. Korea was able to successfully flatten the curve on COVID-19 in only 20 days without enforcing extreme draconian measures that restrict freedom and movement of people. Following activities were implemented to Flattening the curve on COVID-19 in Korea.
ICTs played a vital role in fighting COVID-19 in Korea. Mobile devices were used to support early testing and contact tracing. Advanced ICTs were particularly useful in spreading key emergency information on novel virus and help to maintain extensive ‘social distancing’. The testing results and latest information on COVID-19 was made available via national and local government websites. The government provided free smartphone apps flagged infection hotspots with text alerts on testing and local cases.
ICT helps social distancing
- Emergency broadcasting service (CBS, cellular broadcasting service): The Cellular Broadcasting Service, or CBS, enables government agencies to transmit emergency alert text messages on natural or manmade disasters to cell phones through mobile telecom carriers in Korea.
- A special website providing information of solution companies for remote working
As services not requiring in-person contact are on the rise due to COVID-19, solutions needed for remote working and remote learning will be provided. The Korean government opened a website to provide information about companies providing solutions for remote working and education and their products; related support will also be provided. Information about free solutions is also available so that they can be utilized for remote learning and remote working.
- Smart working and social distancing (Holding virtual video conferences)
- Cyber Security Guidelines for Staff Working Remotely
- Providing educational contents by the central government
- Korean government created a general information page on the science portal website, ScienceAll, to introduce diverse online science content, which contains educational content for science, mathematics and software; immersive content for learning science (AR, VR); video clips, comics and quizzes about science.
- EBS (Korea Educational Broadcasting System) and educational websites
- Korea’s pay TV providers, including the three major IPTV companies (KT, SKB, LGU+), cable TV and satellite TV, are providing real-time educational content such as EBS live lectures for primary and secondary school students on their channels.
- The Korean government has temporarily permitted doctors to perform telemedicine from the end of February as part of preventive measures to avoid group contagion in vulnerable facilities including medical institutions and nursing homes. In other words, patients can receive phone consultations and have medicine prescribed without visiting medical institutions when the doctor considers it safe.
- Remote medicine targeting confirmed coronavirus patients: The Moongyeong Seoul National University Hospital relies on video calls and electronic systems more safely and efficiently to monitor coronavirus patients hospitalized with mild symptoms.
Telemedicine using apps
Patients can log onto the Medihere app, select the hospital they want to visit, and make an appointment to see a doctor. They can receive remote medical advice via video call using the Telemedicine Treatment Room menu provided by the app. Prescriptions are sent to the pharmacy designated by the patient. Odoctor provides a service called Coronavirus 119 where self-reporting their symptoms allows patients to receive medical treatment and prescriptions. If a pharmacy has been designated beforehand, the hospital sends the prescription to the pharmacy. Medicine can be delivered by proxy or directly to the patient.
Predictive Research on the Spread of COVID-19
The government is making full use of Korea’s research capabilities to support the decision-making process of the infection control authorities, such as, sharing data, for accurate and reliable prediction of the spread of COVID-19. The Korean government is supporting predictive research on the spread of COVID-19 carried out by Korean researchers using diverse methods, by identifying and sharing data that can be used by researchers within the scope of data protection and also by helping researchers establish a professional network among them. Such support will be useful for forecasting the macroscopic spread of COVID-19 and the effectiveness of response measures, which will be helpful when making decisions needed for infection control.
Creating apps related to COVID-19
- The app “Now and Here” calculates a mix of risk factors in surrounding areas when users enter their commuting routes.
- The app Cobaek (an alert for coronavirus within 100 meters) sends an alarm when users are within 100 meters of a place that a confirmed patient visited.
- Alerts for the availability of publicly provided masks at pharmacies.
- The number of masks currently available at a given location is announced by color: green (more than 100), yellow (between 30 and 99), red (below 30), and grey (none available), and the information on mask sellers is automatically updated in accordance with the materials publicly released by the National Information Society Agency (NIA).
ICT locates COVID-19 with speedy TESTS
Developing the test-kit: A COVID-19 diagnostic kit was developed by a Korean biotech company using ICT, AI
and high-performance computing technology. It quickly became widely available and played a major role in eliminating uncertainties in the early stages of the viral spread. One of the reasons behind Korea’s rapid development of diagnostic kits is because companies invest in fostering an R&D environment based on ICT such as big data and AI, which allowed the use of research resources available on global online platforms of the WHO and other international organizations.
AI based patient examination: Korea’s AI-based medical image analysis specialists, Companies Vuno, Lunit and JLK Inspection, train their AI algorithms with large- scale chest X-ray photographic data, and detect abnormal findings such as pneumonia – a major symptom of COVID-19 patients – with high accuracy in just a few seconds.
Initiating AI devices at medical sites such as public health centers and local hospitals to relieve the burden of healthcare workers and improve the efficiency of diagnosis.
Walk-thru testing: K-Walk-Thru is a collective name for testing facilities adopted by Korea for the first time in
the world to quickly and safely collect samples for COVID-19. A walk-thru testing station allows quick collection of samples as subjects walk through the station with minimal contact.
Drive-thru Testing Centers
ICT & Tracing COVID-19
- Self-diagnosis APP: The mobile application connects the user directly to the call center and social media channels in order to provide medical answers against suspected symptoms and allow early treatment.
Self-quarantine Safety APP
- The Korean government has developed the Self-quarantine Safety Application to effectively support the monitoring of those under self-quarantine.
- The application largely has 3 key functions: a self-diagnosis for the users to conduct and submit the results with the assigned government officers; a GPS-based location tracking to prevent possible violation of self-quarantine orders; and providing necessary information including self-quarantine guidelines and the contact info of the assigned government case officers.
- Two types of the application were developed: one for the users under self-quarantine and the other for the assigned government case officers. Those under self-quarantine use the application twice a day to monitor oneself concentrating on four symptoms: fever, cough, sore throat, and respiratory difficulties. Once submitted, the self-diagnostic data will automatically be shared with an assigned case officer, who will be notified if the user does
not submit the self-diagnostic data or becomes symptomatic. The case officer is also notified when quarantine is disobeyed, in which cases, the case officer takes appropriate measures to have the subject return to the quarantine area.
Data Based Epidemiological Investigation
- Epidemiological Investigation Support System: The COVID-19 Data Platform is designed to support epidemiological surveyors to quickly identify the transmission routes and places that the infected has visited by using real-time analysis of data such as GPS, mobile information and credit-card transaction history to conduct a spatial-temporal analysis. The platform supports health officials in confirming the interview results of patient transmission routes with the data on the system. Moreover, the big data analysis allows officials real-time data feeds on COVID-19 patients, including their whereabouts and the time spent on each location. From these multiple data points, the system can detect incidents of cluster infection and show the source of transmission.
- Integrated Disease and Health Management System
- Guide to record location history: (Jeju-do Island) voluntarily record their whereabouts on their smartphones using Google Timeline. By turning on ‘My Timeline’ function on Google Map application, the user whereabouts and routes are recorded automatically. If ever necessary, the data on Google Timeline can be captured as screenshots and shared with the epidemiological investigators, who will use the data to trace contacts and patient routes.
ICT facilitates COVID-19 TREATMENT
- Research to facilitate drug repurposing
- Developing medicine using AI
- Developing medicine using platform
ICT FLATTENS the curve on COVID-19
- Key information such as the accumulated count by region and number of tests performed is summarized and provided as visualization data on the main page of the website. Information on providing overseas travel history, finding COVID-19 screening centers, early-detecting of patients, using epidemiologic surveys and isolating the close contacts of a patient are also provided accordingly. Real-time data of publicly-distributed face masks is provided to people through mobile applications and web services, reducing confusion and inconvenience while raising distribution efficiency.
- Release of COVID-19 open government data.
- Information on providing overseas travel history, finding COVID-19 screening centers, early- detection of patients, using epidemiologic surveys and isolating the close contacts of a patient are also provided accordingly.
- Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Health Insurance Review & Assessment Service(HIRA)
Publicly Distributed Mask Information Service
Policy-making using big data
Online sales of agricultural products
Response to Telecom Scams
Innovative Enterprise: A comprehensive situation map marking patient routes, screening centers, COVID-19
safe health clinics, mask vendors, early-voting locations, educational institutions, and places related to Shincheonji (A map of patient counts for cities and provinces, A graph of patient counts for cities and provinces, Graph of COVID-19 situation)
Clova CareCall Service
Source of information: A report prepared by joint collaboration of Korean government ministries and agency including Ministry of Economy and Finance, Ministry of Science and ICT, Ministry of the Interior and Safety, Ministry of Health and Welfare, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and Korean Intellectual Property Office.
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