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A South Korean Covid-19 Czar Has Some Advice for Trump

a health worker outside of a testing unit in North Korea

“We’d like world cooperation,” says Min Pok-kee, who heads the response within the hard-hit metropolis of Daegu. “Prime authorities leaders don’t appear to get that but.”

As America’s first week of social distancing drew to a detailed, I referred to as Dr. Min Pok-kee, who heads up the Covid-19 response in Daegu, the South Korean metropolis hit hardest by the epidemic. Although Min often works as a dermatologist, he has spent the previous six weeks as a volunteer civil servant, commanding an aggressive public well being technique that’s now seen as a nationwide mannequin for slowing transmission of the coronavirus. Actually, on Tuesday, President Trump referred to as his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, to request medical tools and assist.

Min has been following the state of affairs in america, the place his daughter attends faculty. However he appeared shocked, and alarmed, by what I advised him—particularly concerning the scarcity of diagnostic assessments and hospital beds. We spoke in Korean; his account has been translated, edited, and condensed.

On the finish of January, I warned the mayor of Daegu {that a} pandemic was coming. I had spoken with hospitals in China and obtained info from the medical doctors. Inside just a few weeks, we had 11 instances, most of them members of Shincheonji [a Christian movement]. My thought was, “This might unfold actually, actually quick. We’ve got to cease this.”

After I was within the navy, I practiced a variety of battle simulations. So I instantly contacted native navy hospitals and stated, “Prepare.”

{Photograph}: South Korean Presidential Blue Home/Getty Pictures

In Daegu, we had greater than 10,000 members of Shincheonji. Once we examined those that had been symptomatic, 87.5 p.c turned out to be constructive. Once we examined a pattern of people that weren’t symptomatic, it was 74.four per cent. So we needed to quarantine this group, and we did. We name this our “divine maneuver.” If we hadn’t accomplished it from the very starting, we’d be the place the US is now, the place Italy is now.

Once we hit 5,000 confirmed instances in Daegu, we figured Seoul was going to have 30,000. That’s an absolute catastrophe. The mayor of Daegu, to his credit score, actually heard me out. To be sincere with you, the president of Korea didn’t do the identical. The medical doctors advising the president, many people specialists imagine, didn’t do proper by him. Their primary misstep was saying the whole lot was nice, that there wasn’t any drawback.

At first, we had been desperately quick on provides. However we moved shortly to determine a response. We targeted on tools—masks, respirators, negative-pressure machines. As a result of that is an infectious illness, you have to transfer the air inside a hospital room to the skin. We solely had 30 negative-pressure hospital beds in all of Daegu, and a few of these had been in use. However we secured just a few hundred extra in coordination with the nationwide authorities and the navy.

We used dorms and comparable amenities to arrange 5,500 hospital beds. To employees them, we would have liked medical personnel in commensurate numbers. We met that want by volunteers. I’m the director of a clinic, however I took a month’s depart, with out pay, to return right here and work.

person lathering hands with soap and water

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The drive-through testing that the US is presently replicating—a professor in Incheon had proposed the idea however by no means examined it. On February 21, a colleague referred to as me and stated, “The testing is taking too lengthy. What if we attempt it this manner?” I stated, “OK, why don’t you come to our assembly tomorrow?” They briefed us the next day, and on February 23 we opened our first drive-through testing station.

America may be very late to this. And the president and the officers engaged on it appear to assume they aren’t late. This has each nationwide and world repercussions. It isn’t sufficient for Korea alone to outlive. Within the US, Trump is speaking about caring for his personal, however your entire world has to reply in sync.

The important thing to conserving mortality low may be very shortly differentiating between delicate and extreme types of the virus. Those that are younger or don’t have any underlying illness must be separated from those that are older or have an underlying illness, and this latter group should be examined and given a chest X-ray as a matter in fact. There may be one class of younger folks, of their 40s or youthful, who’re asymptomatic however lose their sense of scent or style. They need to be examined for the coronavirus.

Trump has spoken dismissively about testing due to his ego. As we scientists see it, he’s motivated by delight. The medical doctors within the US all know that this kind of testing is suitable.

How are current amenities within the US going to deal with all of the contaminated sufferers? They will’t. So then it’s inevitable that you simply develop into like Italy. Korea additionally may have develop into like Italy, however we assessed the state of affairs in a short time. What ought to america do? For now, social distancing should be instituted comprehensively, and discipline hospitals should be constructed.

The UK provides a cautionary story. Its first response was to say that individuals would develop herd immunity, although it switched course just a few days later. I’d already been involved concerning the capability of the British system, and this made me very nervous. Herd immunity solely works in case you have a vaccine and 85 to 90 p.c of the inhabitants is inoculated. Proper now, within the face of an infectious illness with such a excessive mortality price, for the UK to withstand acknowledging the fact of the virus may translate into tens of hundreds of deaths. It was unthinkable for a authorities to place out such nonsense. We in Korea had been considering, “Are these folks of their proper thoughts?”

It is a virus that may evolve and recur, so crucial factor is to scale back an infection. Additionally, it’s an RNA virus, which suggests it tends to mutate—it’s very troublesome to cease. That’s why I preserve saying that it’s not sufficient for Korea to do a great job. If Korea stops it, however Japan doesn’t, then an contaminated customer can are available from Japan. It is a world virus. We’d like world cooperation. Prime authorities leaders don’t appear to get that but.

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About E. Tammy Kim

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