How has South Korea avoided any coronavirus care home deaths?

George Martin
·3 min read
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - MAY 11: South Korean commuters wear protective masks as they crowd on an escalator and stairs after getting off the subway during rush hour on May 11, 2020 in Seoul, South Korea. Coronavirus cases linked to clubs and bars in Seoul's multicultural district of Itaewon have jumped to 54, an official said Sunday, as South Korea struggles to stop the cluster infection from spreading further. According to the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 35 new cases were reported. The total number of infections in the nation tallies at 10,909. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
South Korean commuters wear protective masks. (Getty)

South Korea has been heralded worldwide for its success in preventing the coronavirus pandemic from spreading to vulnerable care home residents.

The far-eastern nation has seen 11,078 cases as of Tuesday and 263 deaths, but remarkably has yet to record a single death within its care homes.

Adelina Comas-Herrera, assistant professorial research fellow at London School of Economics, told the Commons health and social care committee that stringent isolation measures have helped prevent a crisis on the scale of the UK’s.

“In South Korea, there hasn’t been a single death of a care home resident in the care home,” Comas-Herrera said on Tuesday.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaking in the House of Commons as he answers a question from Liz Kendall on coronavirus and care homes. (Photo by House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images)
Health secretary Matt Hancock defended the UK over the number of care home deaths in the House of Commons. (Getty)

“That is because anybody with suspected COVID was immediately isolated and if they tested positive were removed into quarantine centres, and/or hospitals. So not a single person has died with COVID in a South Korean care home.

“That’s just an example of how quickly they acted to make sure that there wasn’t any possibility of transmission within the care home.

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“Singapore has adopted similar measures. They have had some infections, but they’ve acted really quickly to make sure that it didn’t spread within the care homes.”

She pointed out that these countries had experience of Sars, and their infection control policies were based on that, rather than influenza, adding: “I think that put them perhaps at a slightly better position to deal with this.”

In a photo taken on May 10, 2020, people wearing face masks walk along a street in the Hongdae district of Seoul. - South Korea announced its highest number of new coronavirus cases for more than a month on May 11, driven by an infection cluster in a Seoul nightlife district just as the country loosens restrictions. (Photo by Ed JONES / AFP) (Photo by ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images)
People wearing face masks walk along a street in the Hongdae district of Seoul. (Getty)

The UK government has been criticised for failing to act sooner to protect care homes, which have now seen 11,600 deaths across the country.

Labour MP Sarah Owen raised the example of South Korea to show ask why similar measures have not been taken to protecting vulnerable elderly residents.

"The health and social care select committee just heard evidence that there has been not one single care home death in Hong Kong or South Korea, despite their close proximity to China and shorter time to prepare for this crisis,” Owen told the House of Commons.

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"In comparison, the UK has now tragically seen over 10,000 deaths of loved ones in care homes.

“How can the government describe this as a success and isn't it time now to learn from other countries who have genuinely put a protective ring around their care homes?"

Health secretary Matt Hancock acknowledged that it is "important to learn from everywhere around the world" in how others are dealing with coronavirus.

He replied: "Well yes absolutely, it is important to learn from everywhere around the world and this epidemic has had a different shape in different parts of the world, and as she knows, a very significant impact throughout Europe."

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