Report: How the Republic of Korea Flattened the Curve Without Nationwide Lockdowns or Border Closures

With the Republic of Korea (ROK), one of the very few countries flattening the COVID-19 curve without imposing nationwide lockdowns or border closures, IOM ROK and the Migration Research and Training Center (MRTC), have released a timely report highlighting the country’s approach to the pandemic.

The report Mobility Crisis and Response in the Time of COVID-19: The Republic of Korea’s Approach focuses on the country’s immigration and border management (IBM) strategies, which although maintaining an open border policy still successfully helped to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Since the first reported COVID-19 case on 20 January, the country of over 51 million people has 11,050 confirmed cases and 262 deaths as of 17 May.

The report outlines the key elements of the Republic of Korea’s overall response against the spread of the virus which are likely to be of great interest to other countries currently grappling with the novel coronavirus and contemplating effective mobility management during the pandemic.

The Government of ROK has focused on using Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for early widespread testing, contact tracing and spreading essential emergency information while simultaneously strengthening border controls and implementing strict quarantine measures in the country.

In particular, the report highlights the Special Immigration Procedure (SIP) which has been flexibly applied to the evolution of coronavirus as more passengers come from affected areas. To prevent the outflow of infected travelers to overseas countries, the country has also reinforced its screening process at points of entry.

Leveraging the 3Ts – widespread tests, rigorous tracing, and free treatment – has allowed the country to manage both inflow and outflow passengers in an open and responsible manner. The report also highlights underlying factors including leadership, whole-of-government approach, legal and administrative systematical backup, policy flexibility, and public trust built on transparency as major attributes for the country’s remarkable turnaround in talking COVID-19.

“The contagious nature of infectious diseases and the interconnectedness of the modern world has made many countries use mobility restrictions as a primary tool for containment,” said IOM Republic of Korea Head of Office Miah Park. According to IOM, a total of 215 countries, territories, and areas had implemented a total of 52,262 restrictive measures as of 23 April.

Park added, “As we question the sustainability of such measures, Republic of Korea’s open border policy is especially worth paying attention to. From the onset of COIVD-19 response, the country has followed three fundamental principles.” These have been:

Openness: By minimizing restrictions on the movement of people and goods while maximizing the effectiveness of public health measures, the Republic of Korea has controlled the influx of infections from overseas and protected those entering the country.

Transparency: By promptly and transparently sharing all information related to COVID-19 measures with Korean citizens and residents and the international community, the Government of Korea has sought to ease public anxiety and earn trust.

Inclusiveness: By encouraging voluntary participation in response efforts to COVID 19, the Government of Korea has provided an opportunity for the people to play an active role in curbing the spread of the virus.

For its part, IOM ROK closely monitors country’s COVID-19 response to ensure that vulnerable groups including migrants are not being disproportionately exposed to discrimination, stigmatization or xenophobia in tackling the novel coronavirus. It also continues to stress national, regional, and international solidarity and cooperation.

Access the full report here.