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South Korea Commits to Transparency as it Looks to Contain the Wuhan Coronavirus


This briefing comes from Korea View, a weekly newsletter published by the Korea Economic Institute. Korea View aims to cover developments that reveal trends on the Korean Peninsula but receive little attention in the United States. If you would like to sign up, please find the online form here.

What Happened

  • The Wuhan virus has spread to six different countries, leaving more than 630 infected and 17 deaths.
  • As of January 27, there were four confirmed cases of the coronavirus in South Korea. There have not been any fatalities.
  • Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention has heightened the disease alert level from blue to yellow, and have banned travel to Wuhan and the surrounding region.
  • Local quarantine authorities are taking preventative measures by asking airport and sea ferry authorities to scan travelers’ body temperatures and symptoms of the virus.

Implications: Despite concerns that it might cause a panic, the Moon Jae-in administration is opting to inform the public on the potential severity of the Wuhan virus as it seeks to prevent the disease from reaching the general public. This is consistent with President Moon’s overall emphasis on greater transparency when enacting public policy. The government’s ability to be upfront about the public health risk was partly facilitated by the fact that the first domestic case of the virus was successfully quarantined at the airport. The Moon administration is likely looking to avoid comparisons to the previous administration, whose slow response to the outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2015 was severely scrutinized.

Context: South Korea recorded 186 confirmed cases of MERS and 38 fatalities in 2015. The Park Geun-hye administration’s handling of the health emergency was extensively criticized for its improper response in the initial stages of the outbreak. Many health experts have pointed out that the first 14 fatalities in the first week of the outbreak could have been avoided had the government responded with appropriate urgency. The outcry around the government’s delayed response led to the dismissal of the health minister and elevated the public perception that the administration was incompetent.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Gordon Henning, Soojin Hwang, Hyungim Jang, and Ingyeong Park.

Image from the Republic of Korea Government

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