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South Korea has been witnessing a surge in coronavirus transmissions since 19 February, within a month of reporting the first case.
The cases increased multi-fold on 21 February, the majority of them being reported in the city of Daegu.
The increase was due to community spread, traced to a church in Shincheonji, alarming the Korean health authorities. Singapore too is facing a similar surge in community spread of the novel coronavirus (nCoV).
Seoul city mayor Park Won-soon demanded to prosecute some of the key leaders of the Shincheonji Church for hiding the identities of the suspected during contact tracing investigation, reported BBC.
Contact tracing also hinted of transmission linked to Cheongdo Daenam hospital where coronavirus cases are being tested and treated.
South Korea nCoV (COVID 19) cases: Trend northward
Korea coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, recoveries and deaths
South Korea coronavirus cases crossed 9,900, while deaths have crossed 160. Some of the most coronavirus-affected regions in South Korea are Daegu, Gyeongbuk, Busan, Seoul, Gyeonggi and Gyeongnam.
Imported cases from Japan and China have been identified, in addition to infection through local transmission. Majority of the infected currently are Koreans, however.
Kaletra, an HIV drug developed by pharmaceutical company Abbvie, was used to treat a South Korean patient. Treatment with Kaletra reduced the infection in the patient.
When did coronavirus reach South Korea?
The National IHR Focal Point (NFP) for the Republic of Korea reported the first coronavirus case in South Korea on 20 January 2020.
The patient was a 35-year-old Chinese woman who arrived at the Incheon international airport with fever detected during thermal scanning.
The infected woman was isolated at a national designated hospital.
Disease crisis alert revised upwards to Red
Given the surging spread, the government of South Korea raised the alert level to the highest, Red, on 23 February.
The Korean government first raised coronavirus alert level from Blue to Yellow and started implementing enhanced quarantine and screening measures for visitors from Wuhan on 03 January.
Blue indicates Level 1 alert in Korea’s National Crisis Management System, while Yellow indicates a more serious Level 2 among the four levels.
The alert level was further raised to Orange (Level 3) on 28 January. Furthermore, 29 national designated hospitals were announced to isolate the confirmed and suspected cases.
South Korea: COVID 19 tests for nCoV diagnosis
Rapid diagnostic tests for novel coronavirus (nCoV) in Korea have been made available at Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), along with 17 environmental research institutes, since 24 January.
The test system was made available at a number of private clinics and medical centres too since February.
A newly developed diagnostic system that can detect the novel coronavirus in six hours or lesser has been made available at 50 designated health facilities starting 07 February.
South Korea coronavirus (nCoV) measures
The Korean government, although being vigilant since the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan in December, couldn’t stop coronavirus from entering the country since thousands of Chinese visitors on the eve of Lunar New Year already entered Korea.
The government has since then been rapidly investigating the contacts of suspected and infected cases and sterilising the environment near the places visited by such.
People residing in the Daegu and Gyeongbuk regions have been asked to refrain from attending public gatherings and restrictions have been imposed on their movement. Further, the opening of schools has been postponed by one week.
Medical laws passed and quarantine laws amended
The South Korean cabinet passed new medical laws on 04 March allowing it to prosecute coronavirus-suspected people who don’t co-operate to get tested for the nCoV. The amended law also allows the nation to refuse entry to people confirmed or suspected to have contracted the coronavirus disease.
Further, the new laws allow the government to ban export or transfer of masks and other items.
Evacuations from Diamond Princess
The stranded cruise ship Diamond Princess carried 14 Koreans including passengers and crew, some of who have been evacuated in a special plane by the South Korean government after Japan allowed unaffected to disembark the vessel on 19 February.
The evacuees are expected to be quarantined for 14 days at the Incheon airport.
South Korea coronavirus quarantine: Limited to travellers from China
South Korea started quarantining visitors from Mainland China initially, but expanded the practice to those from Hong Kong and Macao too starting 12 February anticipating community spread. At the time of taking the decision, South Korea had 28 confirmed coronavirus cases.
Leave of Absence and home-quarantining for employees
The Korean government has recommended employers to issue either 14 days of leave of absence (LoA) or work from home to employees returning from China.
Those working at ticket gates and toilets and in buses, railway, subways, taxis have been advised to wear masks as a measure of hygiene.
Coronavirus: South Korea impact analysis
The most immediate impact on South Korea will be due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak in China and transmissions in Japan.
Credit rating agency Moody’s cut the forecast for Korea’s economic growth to 1.9%, from the earlier 2.1% due to COVID-19 impact. A further cut is likely if industrial production suffers.
The World Bank noted that South Korea’s economy could contract by 4.9% in 2020.
Fall in exports could continue
Korean exports have fallen by 6.1% year-on-year in January 2020 due to fewer days worked. The daily average exports fell for 14 months consecutively before witnessing a reversal in January 2020.
Community spread fears of COVID-19 leading to absence from work and lower industrial production threaten exports to continue to fall further.
Impact on tourism to be significant
The Korea Tourism Organization announced that nine planned festivals have been cancelled due to coronavirus situation in the country, while four have been postponed.
South Korea travel advisory for citizens in most of the countries is currently not negative, but the increasing community transmission, if uncontrolled, could result in advises pouring in from rest of the world to avoid travelling to the Republic. Such development would have a material adverse impact on the Korean travel industry, especially aviation.
Chinese tourists contribute more than $11.5bn to the Korean economy, according to Director of Academic Affairs, Kyle Ferrier as quoted by the Korea Economic Institute of America.
Tour cancellations and suspension of flights to China will cause a significant loss to the Korean economy, opined Ferrier.
Inbound tourists to Korea are expected to witness a significant drop during Q1 2020 due to the coronavirus.
Coronavirus impact on industries and companies
Korean automaker Hyundai Motors is hit by coronavirus due to shortage of auto components caused by production cuts by its suppliers in Chinese manufacturing hub. South Korea accounts for approximately 40% of Hyundai’s global production, according to Reuters.
Hyundai announced work stoppage at its Ulsan manufacturing plant in South Korea from 07 February citing the ongoing coronavirus outbreak that led to supply chain disruption in China. Further, a worker at one of Hyundai’s South Korean factories tested positive for coroanvirus leading to the company closing one more factory in Ulsan.
Hyundai estimates the sales revenue to be hit by approximately 44.5% due to the work stoppage. In numbers, the company sees the sales revenue to decline by $35.85m. Hyundai’s total sales revenue from South Korea was $80.41m in the fiscal year 2018. The company’s overall sales fell by 21% in March, when compared to the previous year. Foreign sales alone registered an year-on-year decline of 26.2%.
Korean aviation and retail companies are being similarly hit due to coronavirus. Singapore Airlines is reported by Reuters as having mentioned that the biggest slump in demand on flights is to South Korean and Japan.
One of the workers at a Samsung Electronics plant in Gumi, South Korea, too tested positive for coronavirus, following which the remaining workers were asked to home-quarantine. Samsung, meanwhile, announced a donation of KRW30bn ($24.7m) in the form of medical supplies and daily necessities to support the COVID-19 affected areas. The donation was offered to the National Disaster Relief Association.
Samsung also announced one trillion won ($824m) in funding support to its partner companies in order to stabilise their operations during the coronavirus outbreak.
Asiana, Busan, Jeju, and Korean Air: Coronavirus (COVID 19) impact on Korean aviation
Korean airlines have suspended flights in the coronavirus-affected countries and cities and reduced frequency due to lower demand.
Asiana Airlines suspended its flights to a number of countries including China, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong, witnessing a wide impact.
South Korean flag-carrier and the biggest airline Korean Air cancelled the majority of its flights to China from early-February through March.
The situation is no better for other airlines such as Air Busan, national airline Eastar Jet, Jin Air, and Jeju Air, which are witnessing similar cuts.
Eastar Jet announced its plans to cut 700 jobs out of the 1,600 operational jobs due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. It also plans to reduce its fleet from 21 leased Boeing 737-800s to ten.
Coronavirus impact on retailers
A number of duty-free retailers are closing their stores temporarily during the outbreak period as contact tracing led to the discovery of visits by coronavirus-affected people, reported South Korean news agency Yonhap.
Duty-free retailers whose store operations are hit by the coronavirus, according to the agency, include Shilla Duty Free, Lotte Duty Free, Shinsegae, and Shilla IPark Duty Free, while discount chain operator E-Mart too joined the list.
More retailers are likely to join the list of partial or full-time store closures depending on how the coronavirus spreads further in the nation.
The government has imposed a rental fee reduction rate of 50% for those businesses operating out of airports and duty-free retailers to support these businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Further, 420bn won ($343m) is planned to be provided to small-sized retailers and communication equipment operators.
Coronavirus: Korea takes measures to counter COVID 19 impact
During the 7th Ministerial Meeting on Economy, the Korean government announced that it will provide support to the local governments within the Republic to boost their economies. Some of the immediate measures planned to be implemented to support the economy and local businesses are as below.
- Reserve 136.7 billion won for local governments to support coronavirus prevention and control
- Emergency financial aid of 50 trillion won ($39bn) to small businesses and medium-sized companies to prevent them from going bankrupt
- Financial support of up to 12 trillion won ($9.3bn) for small businesses to enable them to borrow money at 1.5% interest rate from all financial institutions.
- A special loan guarantee programme worth 5.5 trillion won ($4.3bn) to enable small companies and microbusinesses to refinance loan principal and postpone interest payment.
- Support procurement of masks and COVID-19 test kits through private contracts
- Close cafeterias operated by the government twice a week in order to support restaurant businesses
The government is expected to announce further measures given the increasing disease spread and impact.
South Korea’s central bank, Bank of Korea, has accepted 5.25tn won ($4.23bn) in bids from financial institutions in an auction for repurchase (repo) agreements at a rate of 0.78%. The auction is one of several that the bank plans to hold until June as a short-term borrowing tool.
Korean Air, meanwhile, provided emergency relief supplies to the residents in Wuhan by delivering 40,000 KF94 masks to the Red Cross Society of China for distribution in coronavirus-affected areas.