Tag Archive | "health"

A Gap Between Health Experts and Public Health Policy

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 South Korean government recently launched a mandatory quick response (QR) code system to log visitors at high-risk entertainment facilities as part of its latest efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
  • This decision came after authorities struggled to trace people who had visited nightclubs and bars in Seoul’s Itaewon district, where clusters of new cases were detected.
  • According to South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), personal data collected from the QR codes, which includes full names and phone numbers, will be encrypted and destroyed after four weeks.

Implications: The pushback around the adoption of QR code-based tracing system suggests that the policy-making process excluded many public health experts and privacy advocates. Although the government remains buoyed by strong public support, the adoption of the latest tech tools to combat COVID-19 raised questions about the policymaking process from some medical experts. Privacy advocates also raised worries about this latest tech initiative. This further suggests that the government has inadequately explained its rationale for the trade-off between privacy and public health to key civic organizations.

Context: In May, South Korea was in the international spotlight for slowing the spread of COVID-19 without instituting a lockdown. Many nations studied South Korea’s approach to containment. However, a resurgence of infections has raised questions about the effectiveness of Korea’s policies to-date. Although South Korea saw a much larger spike of infections in February and March, those were much easier to track because a majority of the cases were concentrated in a single community of church-goers in the city of Daegu.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of James Constant, Soojin Hwang, Sonia Kim, and Ingyeong Park.

Picture from flickr user Republic of Korea

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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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South Korea Chooses Market Stability Over Innovative Industries

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

  • President Moon pledged to support the bio-health industry in his five-year plan.
  • In October, South Korea’s Financial Services Commission (FSC) warned investors entering the bio-health sector to be prudent.
  • The FSC strengthened investigations into potentially fraudulent bio-tech companies last week.

Implications: Financial regulator’s warning to investors in the bio-health sector suggests that the government’s concern with market instability overshadows desire to rally private investment to this innovative industry. While the government has been forward-leaning on the sector’s potential for growth, the warning comes on the heels of scandals involving companies’ exaggerated disclosure of information related to clinical development, as well as insider trading allegations. There are concerns that the FSC’s public statement may dampen private investments to this innovative sector. Nonetheless, the government appears to have calculated that small losses today may be less costly than a bigger crisis down the road.

ContextScandals have already caused market volatility in the bio-health sector. Samsung Biologics, the country’s biggest pharmaceutical company, committed accounting fraud and is currently under investigation. Meanwhile, Kolon TissueGene intentionally falsified its documents to win a license. Revelation of this criminal behavior led to the suspension of transactions involving this medicine. Sillajen was accused of insider trading and spooked investors panicked when the company’s executive dumped $7.4 million-worth of of the stocks.

Korea View was edited by Yong Kwon with the help of Soojin Hwang, Hyoshin Kim, and Rachel Kirsch.

Picture from Wikimedia Commons 

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Hazy Shade of Winter: Air Pollution Sparks Emergency Measures in Korea

By Jenna Gibson

This week, Seoul’s residents were in a haze – literally. Dangerously high levels of particulate matter in the air prompted emergency measures from the Seoul city government, including making public transportation free during peak hours and asking residents to leave their cars in park as much as possible.

These policies are triggered based on the amount of PM2.5 in the air, with levels above 50 µg/m³ being considered unsafe. On Thursday morning, though, PM2.5 in Seoul hit 160 µg/m³, more than three times that level. Even before this week’s spike, the OECD announced that South Korea has the worst air quality among its members.

The government’s emergency measures may have had limited success, however – according to Arirang, use of buses and subways increased by only 2.1 percent on Monday, and traffic only dropped 1.8 percent.

This was the first time emergency smog measures have been activated since the government announced their new policies in July 2017. Besides the free subway and bus rides, other measures include implementing an odd-even license plate program, where drivers alternate days they can be on the road depending on the last digit of their license plate, as well as upping environmental standards for industries like construction and heating/cooling.

The public discourse surrounding the pollution issue, however, doesn’t often zero in on these domestic industries as the source of the problem. Instead, many media reports about the air pollution problem mention particulates blowing over from China, picking up pollutants from the large country’s many factories before making its way to Seoul. However, a KEI analysis by Professor Matthew Shapiro suggests it’s more complicated than that: “While it is true that the pollution originates in China and is carried eastward on the trade winds, China is not the sole contributor to this problem. Rather, Korean investments in China and the subsequent exports of goods from firms in China all play a role,” he writes. “This is an urgent problem, requiring the cooperation of both countries to manage what is ultimately a regional pollution issue.”

The government is scrambling to get a handle on the pollution issue now not only because of public health, but also because of concerns with the PyeongChang Olympic Games starting in less than a month. To keep particulate levels low, an old theromoelectric power plant near the Olympic venues has been shut down until June, and the government is planning to deploy sensors around the PyeongChang area to measure pollution in real time.

Meanwhile, residents are finding ways to cope with the dangerously high pollution rates. After the government announced its first fine dust emergency day on Monday, stock shares of companies that make eye drops and face masks soared. Demand for clothing dryers is also on the rise – although many Koreans still air dry their clothes, concerns about pollution pushed the domestic market for dryers up 474 percent in 2017, according to e-commerce site Auction.

Realistically, offering free rides on the bus or subway is great as a temporary, emergency measure, and can be particularly helpful for those on the lower end of the income spectrum who may be forced to walk in the polluted air if they can’t afford to pay for public transportation. However, not only is it not financially feasible for the Seoul city to offer free rides on a long-term basis, it also does nothing to solve the underlying problem of emissions generated both in Korea and blowing in from abroad.

Although it may take more than a few days of free rides to change people’s habits, clearly the measure didn’t incentivize that many drivers to leave their cars at home for the day. The Korean government, coordinating closely with major cities like Seoul, is going to have to step up their attention to this issue, and find ways to address the root of the problem, whether through domestic or diplomatic efforts.

Jenna Gibson is the Director of Communications at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone. Image taken by Jenna Gibson.

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The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.