The global COVID-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call for us to realize that we are all living together on one planet. Virus knows no border and we can rest assured that no country or city is immune to the virus. Our cooperation beyond borders is the only option to take in this unprecedented epidemic crisis brought by coronavirus.
The city of Seoul, therefore, would like to share our principles for disease control and prevention, experiences and know-how with the international community on this webpage in the hope that it will offer a glimpse of hope to global cities that are stricken hard by the pandemic and those who are at potential risk of being exposed to the virus.
Given the urgency and severity of the pandemic, we decided to share our information as quickly as possible and thus raced against time to launch this webpage. We hope to see this website invite more city-to-city communication and develop into a forum for collective wisdom.
Cities come into their own in times of crisis as we are armed with practicality, rationality and solidarity. COVID-19 is fast-spreading, but cities can respond faster. COVID-19 is highly contagious, but cities can be even stronger through concerted efforts. There is no doubt that our solidarity and cooperation will eventually prevail over the virus.
I offer my sincere prayers and wishes of health to you and your city.
What makes Seoul Innovative against Covid-19
Lessons from MERS - Promptness & Transparency
Seoul’s principles for contagious disease control and prevention rest on two major pillars: promptness and transparency. As experience is the best teacher, the 2015 MERS outbreak in the Republic of Korea served as a turning point for both Seoul and Korea to help build fundamentals for infectious disease response. Since then, the city of Seoul, under the leadership of Mayor Park Wonsoon, has adhered to the principles ‘Transparency is a miracle drug for contagious diseases,’ and ‘Excessive response is better than sluggish response.’
Such principles are also playing a key role in tackling the COVID-19 outbreak in Seoul. While some countries hesitated to reveal their own virus outbreaks, Seoul and Korea have kept on testing aggressively, sharing information and incrementing disinfection efforts. A series of steps – including patient testing, epidemiological investigation and quarantine has been taken without a hitch, preventing any source of infection in advance. This has enabled Seoul to maintain urban services and functions without any lockdown or stay-at-home order while practicing its containment efforts.
Moreover, all the information related to COVID-19 is open to the public and shared in a transparent manner. The COVID-19 webpage which can be found in the official website of the Seoul Metropolitan Government provides updates on confirmed cases within the city, their travel logs and relevant resources along with the city’s countermeasures. More detailed specifics can also be found in the websites of each district office. The city also holds a daily press briefing on COVID-19, streamed live on the Internet and YouTube, to deliver latest developments on the outbreak and promote citizens’ cooperation in virus containment.
Citizens Take Lead – Democratic participation & Solidarity
A crisis brought by communicable diseases cannot be tackled without civic cooperation nationwide, and thus it is imperative to encourage individual citizens to take initiatives in the containment process. One of the reasons why Seoul has coped with the virus outbreak more effectively than others is also thanks to citizens’ voluntary participation and solidarity.
What sets COVID-19 apart from other viruses is that it is more contagious and fast-spreading. In an effort to reduce a chance of close contact and droplet infection, therefore, Seoul first proposed a social distancing campaign. With people from all walks of life keeping a distance from each other, the city has successfully continued to execute the policy measures without any compulsory shutdown or lockdown. Citizens not only strictly practice personal hygiene but also have become a great comfort to each other by sharing hand-made masks with neighbors and cutting rent fees for tenants.
Turning Crisis into Opportunity – Innovative ideas & Detailed measures
As COVID-19 is spreading around the world, there was an urgent need to add more capacity in both testing and treatment. Thus, Seoul has taken several innovative approaches to scale up its diagnostic and accommodation capacity. One of the measures was to expand the screening clinics exclusively designated for coronavirus testing in number with additional ones set up in front of hospitals and locations where mass infection took place. Another one was to set up drive-through testing facilities which lower a possibility of virus transmission and close contact. Moreover, the city introduced a dual track approach in which treatment institutions are divided by the severity of a patient’s symptoms. For instance, those who show severe symptoms will receive treatment in a negative-pressure ward in a ‘Severe Emergency Treatment Center,’ while those with mild or moderate symptoms will be directed to go to a ‘Life Treatment Center,’ a public agency building temporarily turned into a treatment center.
Amid one crisis after another, Seoul’s innovative ideas with detailed measures played a significant role in tackling the infection at the initial stage. The prime example is an ‘emergency task force’ which is set up to respond to sporadic mass infection. The taskforce consists of a dozen people including epidemiological investigators and public officials and is being immediately dispatched to the site once a cluster of infections takes place. The taskforce sets up an on-site operation center and concentrates its utmost capacity to track down and prevent infections. In recent days, as the outbreak pattern has shown changes with an increasing number of confirmed cases linked to arriving from overseas, the city has established a walk-through testing facility for overseas arrivals, which can test up to 1,000 people per day and arranged special taxi services and emergency shuttle buses operating from the airport to the city.
Virus Knows No Border – Practical Solidarity & Cooperation
In a nutshell, Seoul has managed to effectively contain the spread of coronavirus while maintaining urban services and democratic systems thanks to a combination of several different factors: painful lessons from MERS, drastic investment in public healthcare system, prompt countermeasures, transparent information sharing and mature civic awareness. The city will stay committed to the COVID-19 control and prevention to save the citizens’ lives and tackle difficulties caused by this pandemic.
However, it is clear that we cannot put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic simply with a city’s or a country’s effort. Virus knows no border, and it has been reaffirmed that every single person in the world is connected in their daily lives, not to mention health care and economy. Particularly, this epidemic taught us that cities are at the forefront of epidemic control and containment. With that in mind, the city of Seoul promises to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic through practical solidarity and cooperation with other cities, as we have always had and is determined to break through the current crisis together with the global community.