(ABC news) South Korea yields positive results in fight against COVID-19 due to "Vigour, thoroughness and pleasantness"
South Korea yields positive results in fight against COVID-19 due to "Vigour, thoroughness and pleasantness"
SABRA LANE: The Chief Medical Officer issued a plea to doctors last Friday to strictly adhere to the guidelines for testing for the coronavirus, telling GPs in a letter that test kits are deteriorating rapidly.
But in South Korea, after a big COVID-19 outbreak in Daegu earlier this month, the government went all out, funding mass production of testing kits to World Health Organization standards, then hitting the streets to test some 10,000 people.
Professor William Schaffner has been watching South Korea closely. He's a Professor in Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in the US state of Tennessee.
WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: What they have certainly done and likely learn from the MERS outbreak is that, first off, widespread testing, very intensive testing is very important and that coupled with an absolutely rigorous public health response to find all the positives and then to contact all of the contacts of the positive individuals and put them into isolation, quarantine, house arrest and doing that with extraordinary vigour, thoroughness and pleasantness, I think has yielded very good results.
LINDA MOTTRAM: And in terms of the public health response, rigorous but pleasant, it's an interesting combination. What do you know of how rigorous they've been?
WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: Well, my understanding is that they sent out a small army of public health workers to actually contact all the individuals who had tested positive, find out all their contacts within the last week or two and then contacted those people and went and tested them.
WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: The Wuhan quarantine was remarkably thorough. I have called it the largest public health experiment in the history of humankind and it does seem to have helped.
I think Wuhan's quarantine was put in place after the virus had really gotten going in Wuhan. It would have been very difficult to catch up with the virus but the South Koreans began their testing program almost immediately after they had a few positive cases.
LINDA MOTTRAM: Yes, we heard about there, that concentrated sort of mass of cases in Daegu with that secretive megachurch. It was the speed with which they tackled it after that that was one of the keys, is it?
WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: Absolutely, they had a point source, they had a population that was well defined although the names of all those people were given up, sometimes reluctantly, in that circumstance but nonetheless they pursued that very vigorously and I think let the cult or the church know that they were not going to bad mouth the church.
LINDA MOTTRAM: And it is the case, is it, that if governments choose to invest in ramping up testing they could do it pretty quickly, pretty much anywhere?
WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: Well, I would think they could do it if they controlled the testing apparatus and I think that that was one of the great advantages South Korea had.
The government was determined to do this, educated the public about it and they got off with a running start.
LINDA MOTTRAM: What do you think is the trajectory of this disease globally and what sort of time frame do you see it lasting for?
WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: Well, let me a polish my crystal ball but I'm actually a bit on the pessimistic side there.
I think it will likely substantially but perhaps not completely wane once we in the northern hemisphere get warmer but then I think it will travel even more down in the southern hemisphere during your winter season and then it likely will return to us.
So I'm anticipating that next winter we will have a doubled barrelled respiratory virus season - both influenza and Coronavirus-19 and if there is any light at the end of that tunnel, it's that we hope the vaccine development will be successful.