COVID-19: South Korea traces 100 people for every case – and is willing to share expertise with UK

South Korea is willing to share its test and trace expertise with the UK if it asks, an official has told Sky News.

We were given exclusive access to the test and trace system operated by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

It allows the travel history of confirmed COVID patients to be analysed in as little as four hours to identify potential contacts by combining the patient’s mobile phone data and credit card transactions.

For each COVID case, tracers identify and test 100 people.

In the UK, only two people on average are traced for each confirmed COVID case, according to the latest statistics.

“It’s great that we get information not just from someone’s memory, which relies upon interviewing people, but from a system that relies on computerisation and information,” Lee Jin, an epidemic intelligence service officer at the KDCA said as he demonstrated the system.

“The biggest lesson is that we can get the information quickly and accurately.”

Asked whether those lessons could be shared with the UK, Lee Jin said: “I think it will be possible, if the UK requests.”

South Korea has kept COVID deaths low while avoiding full lockdowns, recording only 522 deaths according to Johns Hopkins University.

The country was the first after China to face a serious coronavirus epidemic.

Unlike countries such as Taiwan and New Zealand, it has not been able to entirely eliminate the disease but has instead dealt with rolling clusters.

Its test and trace system has been vital in managing the spread.

South Korea is currently dealing with a third wave, with cases hitting their highest levels since March.

The government reintroduced social distancing rules in Seoul, closing bars and limiting restaurants’ operations, a month after they had been lifted.

“The third wave of COVID-19 outbreaks is increasingly in full swing,” health minister Park Neung-hoo said at the time.

“The situation is extremely serious and grave.”

Many of South Korea’s clusters have centred on churches.

One of these, the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, is estimated to account for at least a fifth of all the country’s COVID infections.

Members were accused of obstructing test and trace efforts and its founder was arrested and charged by the authorities for hiding information – allegations he denies.

Church members who have recovered from COVID-19 recently volunteered to donate blood plasma to produce treatments.

At the session, church official Kin Soo-jin told Sky News they were co-operating with the government.

“We don’t have any intention to spread the virus on purpose. It is true that church was embarrassed by the mass infection of church members,” he said.

“I think that epidemiological investigation is necessary.”

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