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South Korea nightclub contact tracing shows how to control an outbreak

South Korea nightclub contact tracing shows how to control an outbreak

Officials in the country are constantly updating national and local government websites that track the numbers of cases and residents tested. That way, they can communicate to the public how many people are infected in each geographic area in real time. Then smartphone apps send people emergency text alerts about spikes in infections in their local region.

One app sounds an alarm when users get within 100 meters of a place that someone with a confirmed coronavirus diagnosis recently visited. Another helps employees plot the safest routes to and from work that don’t intersect with the previous paths of infected people.

After the nightclub outbreak, the government sent out phone alerts asking anyone who had been in or near Itaewon clubs between April 30 and May 5 to get tested, even if they didn’t have any symptoms.

The tests were free.

shincheonji coronavirus south korea

Seoul’s branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus on March 1.

JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images


If a resident tests positive or is suspected of coming into contact with an infected person, the government then encourages them to download self-quarantining apps that help users monitor their condition. The apps can connect them to a doctor if needed, and they also set off an alarm if the sick user ventures outside their designated quarantine area.

South Korea reported its first coronavirus case on January 20 — the same day the US did. 

At first, case numbers remained low. But in mid-February, a 61-year-old woman attended church services in Daegu. Soon after, she tested positive for the coronavirus, then so did dozens of others. South Korea’s coronavirus case count quickly jumped from 29 cases on February 15 to more than 2,900 two weeks later.

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Coronavirus South Korea

South Korean soldiers on a street in front of Daegu’s city hall after a rapid rise in cases of the coronavirus on March 2.

REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon


But the country quickly implemented large-scale coronavirus testing, which helped health officials find and notify potentially infected people. By March 17, more than 270,000 Koreans had been tested, in large part at drive-thru and walk-through facilities. They received their results in less than a day.

Starting March 1, the number of new daily cases shrank day after day as infected people were quarantined and their contacts were appropriately isolated.

By mid-March, South Korea’s epidemic curve had flattened. To date, it has reported about 11,200 coronavirus cases and 264 deaths.

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