South Korea throws up innovative tech solutions in coronavirus fight

South Korean student Choi Hyoung-bin (left), 15, created the Coronanow website to offer useful information based on official data, such as charts on the increase in coronavirus cases and infections by regions. His friend Lee Chan Hyeong, 14, helps to update the information every day. PHOTO: COURTESY OF CHOI HYOUNG-BIN

SEOUL - A drive-through test for the coronavirus. A body steriliser installed at entrances to spray disinfectants on people walking through. A mobile app to keep track of the health status of overseas visitors.

These and other innovative solutions have shown up in technologically advanced South Korea during its fight against Covid-19, and they are now drawing attention from other countries as the global pandemic widens in strength.

The virus which originated from China has so far infected more than 200,000 people and killed about 9,000 worldwide. In South Korea alone, there are over 8,500 infections and 92 deaths.

Vice-Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said last week: "We are seeking creative solutions, and we are making full use of advanced information technology in this regard."

The country has already come up with "some world-class best practices in our fight against the disease", which include drive-through testing stations and epidemiological investigations supported by GPS data, he said at a foreign media briefing.

Both the United States and the United Kingdom have adopted similar drive-through test clinics as cases of infection surged.

In South Korea, there are 50 such stations set up all around the country. People with symptoms can drive up, wind down their windows to allow medical staff take throat and nasal swabs and their personal data in just 10 minutes. They get their results the next day.

This translates to six tests an hour - three times faster than a hospital setting which requires disinfection in between patients.

The idea of a drive-through clinic was first mooted in a 2018 research project by the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

It was inspired by an anti-terrorism drill that included distributing medical supplies to the public, according to Dr Shin Hee-jun from Soonchunhyang University Hospital, who participated in the study.

"The point of the drive-through system is to save time testing and minimise risk of people getting infected in the testing area," he told Yonhap news agency.

A South Korean medical staff member uses a swab to take samples from a visitor at "drive-through" testing centre for the coronavirus in Yeungnam University Medical Centre in Daegu, South Korea, on March 3, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

The government has also developed a "self health check" mobile app to keep tabs on foreign visitors. The authorities said the app has been downloaded more than 60,000 times, and its usage rate is over 90 per cent.

KCDC deputy director Kwon Jun-wook said 400 users reported symptoms via the app, with 80 going for tests. None turned out positive.

"Instead of blocking or implementing travel bans, we are using this app to monitor infections and it has proven to be effective," he added.

Health authorities have also developed a separate mobile app to keep track of people under quarantine, and have started using drones to disinfect large areas.

Private companies and organisations have also adopted high-tech solutions to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Major exhibition halls have installed body sterilisers to spray disinfectants on people walking through, while malls started using thermal scanners to detect visitors with high body temperatures - a possible symptom of the virus.

Citizens are also doing their part to help spread reliable information about the virus.

College student Lee Dong-hun, for one, created a website called Coronamap to keep track of the cases around the country, when he realised there was too much false news going round.

Remote video URL

"I sought to solve this problem by using official information provided by the Ministry of Health and Welfare to create an accessible map," the 27-year-old told The Straits Times.

The website went live on Jan 30 and drew 2.4 million page views the next day, trending number one online. It has now accumulated over 37 million views.

Mr Lee has created another map to share information on where to buy face masks, and noticed that there are other people doing the same.

"I think it's a positive sign that developers and individuals are seeking to share good information and data openly and actively," he said.

Student Choi Hyoung-bin, 15, created the Coronanow website to offer useful information based on official data, such as charts on the increase in cases and infections by regions, and information of the patients. His friend Lee Chan-hyeong, 14, helps to update the information every day.

The website has drawn over three million views since it went live on Feb 10. It has since generated profit of 1.4 million won (S$1,600) from online advertisements, which Mr Choi is donating to help fight against the virus.

He also intends to use the website to rally support for the medical staff in the south-eastern city Daegu, where 70 per cent of the cases are. He told ST that he has already collected 100 thank-you letters and will send them on to healthcare workers with a small gift, such as a vitamin drink.

He hopes his work will inspire others to follow suit, especially when people realise that "students with no power to begin with can do this much".

Additional reporting by Kim Yeo-joo

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