A Democratic tour de force: How the Korean State Successfully Limited the Spread of COVID-19 Asie.Visions, No. 117, November 2020
While the COVID-19 pandemic is still greatly affecting most of the world, the Republic of Korea has managed to stall the spread of the disease.
No nationwide or even local lockdown was imposed; citizens largely complied with government guidance on social distancing and there have been no COVID-related protests in the country. The response of the Korean government and of Korean society to the COVID-19 crisis has generated much interest among foreign observers, who wonder how the Korean government was able to limit the spread of the disease while maintaining economic activity and without generating distrust among the population.
The paper argues that a multiplicity of factors have enabled the Korean government to limit the spread of the disease without antagonizing the population but most importantly that it was Korea’s democratic control of technology that was effective in curbing the contagion curve, rather than technology per se. The Korean government has used information technologies and surveillance mechanisms to track COVID-19 cases through applications and tracing maps. But a transparent and legally limited use of surveillance technologies has proven decisive in the management of the pandemic.
However, several challenges still await Korea after COVID-19, even while it now exports its COVID response as a ‘K model’. These include the current second wave and imported cases, as well as domestic debates surrounding the government’s Keynesian response to the economic repercussions of the pandemic.