Do we really want to follow South Korea?

South Korea has avoided lockdown, but its mass surveillance system is nothing to envy.

Elliot Leavy

Topics Politics World

Health authorities in South Korea recorded no new domestic cases of coronavirus infections last Wednesday for the first time since the outbreak in February. The South Korean model of dealing with the virus has been widely celebrated. There is no lockdown and there are high levels of testing. But that is not the full story.

Firstly, coronavirus is not South Korea’s first rodeo. In 2015, the country suffered an outbreak of MERS, which has, in effect, acted as a blueprint for dealing with the current crisis. For most of the world, the problems posed by Covid-19 are unprecedented. Not so for South Korea.

South Korea’s situation is also unique in that the coronavirus first arose within the Shincheonji Church, a doomsday cult which is estimated to have over 120,000 members. The cult is believed to have accounted for 60 per cent of initial cases. It is a niche and connected community. This allowed the government to track, test and quarantine the nation’s first victims with relative ease.

These unique aspects of the South Korea situation should not be forgotten. It makes little sense to hope for a similar outcome elsewhere. Those who do are basing assumptions on comparisons between apples and oranges.

Then, there are those who point out how successful South Korea has been without a hard lockdown. As someone who is broadly against the lockdown, it is tempting to join in the celebration. But the devil is in the detail. The truth of the matter is that South Korea has entered into a Faustian bargain: it endures detailed mass surveillance in return for a semblance of guaranteed safety. Indeed, even when the present danger is passed, the surveillance looks to continue, with the South Korean government reportedly dubbing the next phase of its strategy an ‘everyday quarantine’.

So what would ‘everyday quarantine’ entail? Currently, the government sends out emergency text-message alerts of nearby cases of infection. This works using a government-mandated GPS-tracking app. It is designed to monitor and punish people who break quarantine. Fines can amount to thousands of pounds. The whereabouts of every single confirmed patient – down to which theatre seat they have sat in – alongside details like age and sex are made public. These reports are anonymous, yet they are so particular in detail that one man’s visit to a lingerie store was shared with every smartphone in his city.

In the UK, we will soon have our own GPS-tracking app to download in the coming weeks, which will raise similar privacy concerns. The app gathers location data and can alert those you have passed by if you tell the app you have had the virus. There is still little evidence from around the world that apps are a good way to identify infected individuals or prevent the spread of the disease.

Before we all buy into the South Korean solution wholesale, we should at first be honest about what it entails. South Korea may have avoided a draconian lockdown, but liberties have not been spared.

Elliot Leavy is editor of BOZO, an online arts magazine.

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James Knight

5th May 2020 at 6:43 pm

Taiwan? Vietnam? New Zealand?

The simplest and most effective strategy is to prevent people coming into the country from the affected area unless they have checks or quarantined. But instead in Britain the police were chasing an individual in peak district with a helicopter while flights continued from New York, Italy and China.

Adamsson 66

5th May 2020 at 10:58 am

Actually I would prefer South Korean spying and snooping to the ridiculous 2m social distancing we have.
In fact the USSR under Brezhnev rather than what Boris has planned

Michael Fereday

5th May 2020 at 10:57 am

Freedom and liberty should be the guiding principles of any policy making in the UK and US, no matter the cost to public health and longevity of life (otherwise our brave soldiers died for nothing in both great wars). Once society decides the latter is more important than the first, ‘they deserve neither’ said Franklin!

We live in an ageing and highly advanced society that keeps very frail and sick people alive, against all the odds (this is an amzing achievment). However, any strain of new virus or bacteria will, of cousre, impact this increasingly expanding group…and we just have to accept that. Or, place our young, fit and health in to lockdown period to micro manage a zero risk society… and as someone with children I would fight and sacrifice everything to prevent this from being the case!

Steve Roberts

5th May 2020 at 8:03 am

The reason to dissent this madness is not to just denounce ones own particular elite in comparison to other global elites, the point is that beyond protecting the genuinely vulnerable all this has been unnecessary. Many leading experts have explained this from the very beginning, some published on Spiked. The following video is well worth a watch, the interviewee is a world renowned expert with huge experience.

Dominic Straiton

5th May 2020 at 6:25 am

While were at it Sweden is the China of Europe. Dont believe their bullshit statistics.

Adamsson 66

5th May 2020 at 10:55 am

No it isn’t. Sweden is one of the most honest and open countries in the world to pretend they are lying about death rates is ridiculous they may be counting them accurately rather widely exaggerating the numbers like we do but total excess deaths is lower than ours and most other badly affected countries.

Dominic Straiton

5th May 2020 at 11:52 am

Have a listen to Sweden’s whistle blowing doctors.

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