The way South Korea crushed its second wave is a warning to us all

Unlike in South Korea, many Western nations have a large number of community infections. If lockdowns are lifted too early, a deadly second wave is likely.

After South Korea had gotten its first wave of infections under control, on May 2 it had recorded 257 new cases stemming from an outbreak coming from nightclubs in its capital city.

But there are signs that the rigorously efficient contact tracing regime deployed by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) is bringing this new outbreak under control. As of May 20, there have been 336 new cases of Covid-19 since the beginning of the month, a far cry from February when there were more than 3,000 in just two weeks.

The most notable of these is a contact tracing regime that utilises credit card records, mobile phone tracking, and GPS location data to track previous movements of infected individuals. “Whenever new confirmed cases are found, the KCDC sends text messages to people who live or work nearby,” says Eunha Shim, an epidemiologist at Soongsil University in Seoul. “You can also go to a website and find out information about those cases. This ranges from a list of the places they visited in the last couple of days, their age and gender, whether they were wearing a mask the entire time or not, and whether their house has been disinfected or not.”

There are questions of whether other nations would take this intensive monitoring approach for their populations – but the success of South Korea in containing outbreaks is built on this contact tracing.