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Seven weeks ago, the United States and South Korea had the same number of coronavirus deaths. Now America’s toll measures in the tens of thousands, but South Korea’s remains under 300. The country’s successful flattening of its curve offers a rough sense of what’s working—and what post-peak life might look like.
How South Korea did it
Derek Thompson reports on the country’s three-pronged strategy: Test, trace, isolate.
By mid-February—while the U.K. was talking about “herd immunity” and President Donald Trump was predicting that the virus would “miraculously” disappear in weeks—South Korea was churning out thousands of test kits every day. By March 5, South Korea had tested 145,000 people—more than the U.S., the U.K., France, Italy, and Japan combined.
The national mapping of citizen activity yields fast results. On a Saturday in April, a 58-year-old man was diagnosed with the coronavirus. Surveillance data showed that he had voted in the election and visited several restaurants in previous days. Within 48 hours, South Korea had identified—and, in some cases, interviewed—more than 1,000 people who had potentially come into contact with him.
To separate the sick from the healthy—and the somewhat sick from the very sick—South Korea’s patients are divided into several groups. The elderly and those with serious illnesses go straight to hospitals. Moderately sick people are sent to isolation dorms, where they’re monitored.
A glimpse at post-peak life