How South Korea used science to avoid lockdown

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Rizwan Ghani
IN his 1st June public address, PM has replaced
lockdown with smart lockdown and asked the pub
lic to follow SOPs whereas there was no need for any lockdown in first place if only we were ready. After reading this piece it is hoped that all responsible for deaths, unemployment and irreversible loss of tax money will be given exemplary punishment. The government will adopt aggressive testing policy to avoid further loss of life, keep the economy running and bring culprits to book. And it is hoped that in upcoming hearing Supreme Court will also take notice of gross negligence, resultant deaths and economic losses if govt fails to bring the culprits to book.
As the world looks in disbelief on coronavirus situation in the UK and US, South Korea has successfully controlled disease. Country’s Health Minister Park Neung-Hoo explained to the Time Magazine after dreadful experience of MERS how early planning, robust public healthcare system, extensive testing and contact tracing helped the nation contain Coronavirus infections and keep the economy open. They used ten-minute drive through test centres. They provided ease of testing, were much safer than going to hospitals. The tests included temperature check, specimen collection (swab or saliva tests). There was no risk of cross infections between health professionals. System was in place to prepare testing kits. Early testing was winner in containing disease because 80 % Covid-19 patients with mild infections who spread the virus very quickly couldn’t do it.
Then Life Treatment Centres were established for Coronavirus patients of mild symptoms. They being 80 % ere taken care of at the start. It saved overload of country’s healthcare system. It also saved exposure of other healthcare staff. The use of contact tracing helped in stopping the spread of Coronavirus. The Information & Communication Technology (ICT) APP was used at the airports to quickly identify infected visitors and people who they came in contact with. Their locations were swiftly traced with the help of credit card use, CCTV, mobile phone location tracing. The virus spreads very quickly. Speed therefore was important to locate contacts of infected patients to block further spread of the virus.
Science was used to avoid lockdown. Instead of imposing lockdown, the government used epidemiological approach (wide testing, isolation and treatment of patients and social distancing) and modern technology to control virus and keep economy running. The control by country’s health authorities of speed of spread of coronavirus including R (virus reproduction rate) and K factor (people generating lot of secondary infections because of the event they attended) has shown importance of science and preparation. South Korea (51 million population) has 11,541 cases, 10,446 recovered and 272 deaths.
South Korea has shown that lockdown is not a treatment. The fight over lockdown, smart lockdown or unlockdown is a drama because lockdown is not a photographer’s darkroom where a Coronavirus patient will ‘develop’ into a beautiful photograph by virtue of staying at home without any treatment. Since there is no approved treatment for Coronavirus so lockdown was never a solution and will not be a solution until there is a vaccine or vaccines. Till then world will have to rely on test, trace and treat the patients as shown by South Korea. China is also using aggressive testing policy to ‘catch’ the infectious individuals before they infect others with extensive infrastructure which makes them ready to live with Coronavirus and keep the economy running while protecting lives. In Pakistan, our policy makers are using Coronavirus lockdown, statistics and public SOP violations as an excuse for growing number of Coronavirus cases and deaths. They are also giving examples of rich countries like UK and US to show that even resources cannot save them from impact of Coronavirus. But the success of South Korea shows that early planning made the difference which in our case was totally missing now it could become a matter of life and death.
Our health officials are lying that Coronavirus is unseen, new and a surprise. In WHA (2011) and WHO Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Framework: progress challenges in improving influenza preparedness response capacities in the Eastern Mediterranean region, 2014-17 under which Pakistan and its provinces participated to prepare for pandemic influence risk management including Coronavirus (wild card, ILI) as part of GISRA under International Health Law (Journal of Infection and Public Health, Vol.13, Issue 3, page 446-450, March 2020). Reportedly our current Health Advisor to PM has served in the same region as WHO employee.
Our story of incompetence does not stop here. The US CDC April 2017 guidance “Get your house ready for pandemic flu” is being used in Pakistan as Coronavirus SOPs. They failed to prepare the country for the pandemic since 2017 and could not spread the SOPs for which they are blaming the public now. Allegedly could it be that they are serving vested stakes including hallowing of country’s economy to keep it under western control while other countries review their geo-strategic and geo-economic policies (Merkel improves grip on EU for bargaining in Asia’s century). Finally, it is hoped that government will use extensive testing to control the coronavirus and bring culprits to book for each death, crores pushed under poverty and unemployment, spending of trillions tax money on relief packages, loss of revenue and irreversible loss of economy which South Korea has successfully shown could have been avoided in our country with timely preparation and information. So will the judiciary standup for the public if the Executive fails to take action against the culprits to protect the weak against the strong?
—The writer is senior political analyst based in Islamabad.

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