07. September 2022

South Korea's Response to COVID-19 Lessons South Korea's Response to COVID-19: Lessons for Pandemic Preparedness and Agile Crisis Management

Prof. Dr. Maximilian Mayer et al.

Prof. Maximilian Mayer and Ga Young Lee are examining the genesis of South Korea's proactive pandemic management as well as the resulting learning processes.

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The superior pandemic management approach of South Korea holds crucial lessons for other countries that currently review their own epidemic responses. The objective of this study is to analyze the learning processes in the wake of earlier epidemics in South Korea to understand the starting conditions for COVID-19. The aim is to explore the genesis of South Korea's proactive pandemic management focusing on the administrative and institutional components which were critical in formulating problem-solving strategies to combat COVID-19. Since January 20th, 2020, when the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the Republic of Korea, the government's response proceeded as if the government has been expecting a large-scale crisis and anticipated how the epidemic would unfold, despite being one of the first countries to be affected due to dense travel connections with China. The containment strategy followed a proactive strategic logic and included, for instance, the emergency authorization of mass-produce testing kits, systematic population-wide testing, early recommendations to wear face masks and intense social distancing measures during the earliest days of COVID-19. Based on the ways South Korea facilitated its experiences with MERS, and the impact of subsequent institutional reforms on its response to COVID-19, four major lessons are presented in the conclusion of this report:

  • Governance structure: a centralized overview and steering capacity is a must have.
  • Agile and proactive management: don't wait until the first infection is confirmed.
  • Basic strategic preparedness: a critical precondition for a swift epidemic response is to have a strategic playbook and resources ready.
  • Institutional learning: a thorough post-COVID-19 audit will save many lives and limit the societal costs of pandemics in the future.


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