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Europe’s view on S. Korea’s quarantine system

Posted April. 13, 2020 07:41,   

Updated April. 13, 2020 07:41


“South Korea, which has not placed movement restrictions on its citizens, once had the second-most COVID-19 patients in the world after China. But its death toll is very low. Let’s find out how they made this result.”

It was a comment of an anchor on the evening news of France’s largest free-to-air television channel TF1. The anchor introduced the quarantine system of South Korea for some three minutes. BFM TV also reported South Korea’s quarantine measures on Wednesday and said publicizing routes of patients, testing those who contacted with patients and self-quarantine were effective.

“It is the first time that South Korea’s policy is highlighted in Europe,” said a South Korean resident in Paris. The U.S., Italy and Spain have more than 20,463, 19,468, and 16,606 deaths from the outbreak as of Sunday, respectively, and many European countries have been paralyzed by multiple quarantine measures. South Korea is viewed as an exemplary case as it is dealing with the virus without banning movement of citizens.

News outlets highlighted quick testing of South Korea until mid-March, but are now focusing on the nation’s patient management using GPS on mobile phones from early this month. Countries in Europe are embroiled in strong arguments for and against quarantine using mobile phone GPS.

South Korea is a country with weak privacy and human right protection, not an exemplary case, opponents claimed. French financial newspaper Les Echos published an opinion piece of a lawyer on April 6. The lawyer argued that South Korea is a country with the second-highest surveillance and whistle-blowing after China, adding that South Koreans make money by reporting others to the police. French daily newspaper Le Figaro reported Thursday that South Korea is different from China, which is a communist state and data collection in South Korea is strictly restricted by law, and it is allowed only for quarantine purposes.

These media reports reflect intermingled emotions of Europeans. They are laden with curiosity and envy towards South Korea with less damages. There are also implicit nuances of jealousy and denial of reality as an Asian country, which they considered as inferior, has showed clear superiority in the quarantine system to fight against COVID-19. French people acknowledge South Korea’s achievements, but they do not forget to solace themselves by saying Europe’s strength is still standing in various fields.

As of Sunday, France’s death toll exceeded 13,000 and Europe’s hovered over 70,000. South Korea recorded 214 deaths from the virus, which is significantly less than European countries. Each country’s quarantine system has strengths and weaknesses, and situations are all different. The world is still battling against the virus and so many people are dying from it. Flexible approaches are pivotal in any quarantine policy.

Youn-Jong Kim zozo@donga.com