You publishes article on COVID-19, shares lessons learned in South KoreaToula Wellbrook | School of Public Affairs Aug 10, 2020
What made you decide to write this article?
“The School of Public Affairs faculty, especially Professor Mary E. Guy, emphasized the need for more international/comparative public administration research. This article responds to that call to action. Compared to previous journal articles and media reports on South Korea’s COVID-19 policies, I wanted to examine not only the policy actions the South Korean government took, but also why their interventions worked.”
What do you think was the most important lesson learned by South Koreans after the MERS outbreak, and how has this learning affected the country’s policy responses to COVID-19?
“One of the most critical lessons from the MERS outbreak was the importance of crisis risk communication. South Korea recorded its first MERS case on May 20, 2015, but the South Korean government didn’t release the hospital information until June 5, 2015. This lag in communicating the first case increased citizens’ fear for their safety and security. After the government declared the objective determination of the MERS outbreak on December 23, 2015, the Korean CDC established the Office of Communication on January 4, 2016. This new office established various communication channels and protocols, which resulted in new standard operating procedures and guidelines, issued in February 2017, for risk communication in public health emergencies.
In addition to the national risk communication management system, the new guidelines emphasize five principles: be right, be first, be credible, express empathy, and promote action. Accordingly, amid COVID-19, the Korean CDC held twice-daily press briefings about COVID-19 emergency management beginning January 30, 2020, when South Korea had four COVID-19 cases. The South Korean government also operated a 24-hour COVID-19 hotline (1399) and portal site (http://ncov.mohw.go.kr/en), and it managed an emergency text message system and social media channels, delivering infographics and correcting any inaccurate news reporting. This transparent and rapid communication encouraged voluntary, public compliance and enhanced policy legitimacy.”
Do you think the policy responses that South Korea adopted for COVID-19 would be effective in the United States? If so, how effective do you think they would be? If not, why would they be ineffective?
“Since the scope of my article is limited to the country-level responses in South Korea, I will answer using comparisons with federal efforts in the U.S. There are many variables to consider when emulating policies from other countries. South Korea’s extensive surveillance and contact tracing using ICT may not be applicable at the federal level in the U.S. due to different cultural norms.
On the other hand, what the federal government might have done differently would have been to maximize the speed and accuracy of implementation of testing. At the beginning of COVID-19, the South Korean government quickly ramped up its testing capacity to cover a sufficient percentage of the population. The Korean CDC developed the rRT-PCR diagnostic method for COVID-19 in January 2020. They shared the data with the Korean biotech industry and implemented the diagnostic method nationwide beginning January 31, 2020.
Through the fast review of the Korean FDA, four commercial diagnostic companies received emergency use authorization for their test kits in February 2020. By comparison, the U.S. CDC’s seemingly slow and less accurate test in the pandemic’s early stages led to widespread discontent with the federal government. For instance, on February 12, 2020, when public and private labs had not yet received FDA approval for their own tests, the CDC revealed that a CDC-designed test kit contained a faulty reagent.”
What can public administrators in the United States do to help the citizens and residents of the country to become more adaptable and resilient to pandemics in the future?
“Though many solutions are emerging, I believe one essential solution for public administrators is to collect documentation about their successes and struggles, and what they hear from citizens and residents about policy implementation and communication. This all needs to be documented in a timely manner. There may be best practices and community engagement success stories. There may be some confusing and contradictory policies. Using detailed documentation that they collect, public administrators need to draw lessons, assess and update their policies, and suggest necessary actions at the higher levels.”
Jongeun's research has also been featured in the CU Denver News article "What the rest of the world can learn from South Korea's COVID-19 response."
Jongeun You is a third-year doctoral student in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver. His career objective is to design policies leading to more sustainable outcomes in energy, the environment, and human health. He holds a master's degree in public policy from the University of Michigan and a bachelor in economics from Seoul National University.