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Opinions of Thursday, 15 October 2020

Columnist: Yasin Billy

Korea's coronavirus strategy is worth emulating

Coronavirus active cases falling in Ghana Coronavirus active cases falling in Ghana

On Saturday, October 4, 2020, Ghana joined the Korean Embassy and the Korean community in Ghana to celebrate Korea's National Foundation Day.

The day is an occasion for Koreans to celebrate their successes in political, social and economic spheres, which dates back to 2333BC.

Despite the country's numerous achievements which culminated in rapid economic development over the years, Korea's journey towards the path of progress was rough and tough.

For several decades, Korea, like many other countries, fought wars and hunger and eventually overcame adversities in the form of natural disasters, plagues and pandemics. The most known adversity that drew back the clock of progress was the Korean war which resulted in the deaths of more than 3 million people along with its concomitant famine and poverty.

Korea's story encapsulates the fight for economic growth in the face of challenges for a low-income country that later turned into an economic powerhouse. The Asian country's meteoric rise to greatness did not happen overnight; theirs was a sterling demonstration of hard work and the desire to succeed.

In all this, leadership matters. And Korea's handling of the coronavirus pandemic which continues to wreak havoc across the globe is yet another good example of impressive leadership. Today, Korea is used as a good example in the fight against COVID-19 by countries known to have efficient health systems. They include the United States of America, Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany and many others.

South Korea learned many lessons the hard way- by not having sufficient resources to cope with previous epidemics, notably the 2015 MERS outbreak. At the time, the Korean Centre for Disease Control, or KDC, was the only institution authorized to do epidemiological testing.

Thankfully, today, with the advancement in science, technology and research, Korea has become the envy of the world in the fight against the novel coronavirus disease. When countries like the United States were recording case numbers in the millions with more than 212,000 COVID-19 related deaths, Korea was managing a few numbers with less than 1,000 deaths.

Korea is fighting the virus with time tested scientific methods of aggressive testing, tracing and treatment. One of such methods which have gained prominence is the drive-through testing.

If you roll up to a drive-through COVID-19 testing centre in South Korea, you might notice that safety procedures extend to your car's air conditioning. You will be advised to hit the recirculation button so that if you are sick, you keep the pathogens to yourself, in your car, and avoid infecting medical personnel doing the testing. The test takes 10 minutes at most. Results are texted to you, usually the next day. And it's free- paid for by the government.

Drive-through centres have helped South Korea to do some of the fastest, most-extensive testings of any country. And while nobody is claiming that South Korea has defeated the outbreak, experts credit the emphasis on testing with reducing case numbers and fatalities.

Although the country is not out of the woods, it is safe to say that it has cracked the back of the virus. Korea has done remarkably well in stemming the tide and preventing the spread of the disease.

As the world races against time for a vaccine and ultimately a potential cure for the virus, Korea's common sense approach to masking up in crowded places, observing social distancing protocol, as well as regular hand washing with soap also helped them in tackling the pandemic. We are now learning that nose masks are more effective than a vaccine- Korea knew this long before now and took appropriate measures to enforce the law on wearing masks. This is the reason one is likely to see eight out of 10 Koreans wearing a mask in the subway, supermarkets and places of scenic interest.

Lessons for Ghana

Ghana and many other African countries have been largely beneficiaries of Korea's benevolence- not forgetting millions of dollars in donations of personal protective equipment, transfer and deployment of technology and other interventions.

In his address on the National Foundation Day, the Korean Ambassador to Ghana Mr Kim Sungsoo praised Ghana's efforts in handling coronavirus.

He was right to a large extent. Needless to say, Ghana could not have been successful with the support of the Korean government.

The Korean Government, acting through the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and KOFIH had in the past few months donated medical supplies running into millions of dollars to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Inner City and Zongo Development to help contain the virus. The support came in handy as many health facilities do not have enough personal protective equipment to cater for COVID-19 patients.

That is not all; Ghana is still a recipient of Korean scholarships. By far, the Korean Government had in the past decade, implemented several projects in all regions of Ghana, in different sectors of the Ghanaian economy. Yes, the Koreans are our good friends, but the Korean Government is not Father Christmas, and it is time Ghana took its relationship with Korea a notch higher.

When President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo declared Ghana Beyond Aid, he meant that Ghana was better placed to engage its partners on favourable trade deals and agreements. Much less, the Ghana Beyond Aid agenda can only succeed if Ghana readjusted and recalibrated its relationship with western countries from aid to strong partnership.

No doubt, Ghana cannot be at par with Korea any time soon, but with the right mindset and good leadership, Ghana can become the Korea of Africa.

Korea deserves a pat in the back for being a leading light in the fight against the Pandemic.

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