Korean calls this “bali bali” gene what world knew COVID19
In an urbanising world when majority of globe depends on cities as engines of growth suddenly found themselves lockdown because of coronovirus, whom world health organisation (WHO) declared as pandemic, left most of the cities deserted or being called as Ghost city. Be it Wuhan in China or Milan in Italy or New York in America or Mumbai in India, over thousands of cities across hundred fifty nations are busy finding way out from lock down despite advancement in infrastructure, knowledge, technology and human resources. Even smaller cities like Bhubaneswar is not left out of its radar. The challenge how do make cities back to its people that was built for Social Inclusive now lands in Social Distance. Yet there are cities finding way out from lockdown to making cities work.
The South Korean Foreign Minister, Ms Kang Kyungwha, says she thinks extensive testing has been the key to South Korea’s low coronovirus fatality rate, and that governments have the responsibility to “guard against panic”. Even WHO suggested a simple message for all countries fighting COVID19 is test, test, test. The most effective way to prevent coronovirus infections and save lives is breaking the chains of transmission and to do that, authorities must test and isolate.
In the battle to contain the contagion, nearly 20,000 people are being tested every day for coronavirus in South Korea, more people per capita than anywhere else in the world. South Korea has created a network of 96 public and private laboratories to test for coronavirus. these labs have become the front line in the battle to contain the contagion.
Dozens of drive-through centres having two people dressed head-to-toe in white protective clothing, clear goggles and surgical face masks are ready for testing having long swab stick is rummaged around the back of the mouth and throat of person drive in for testing and then placed carefully into a long test tube.
The whole thing takes over in minutes, then person rolls up car window and drives. Then the sample is quickly shipped off to a nearby laboratory where staff are working 24 hours a day to process the results. The person will get a call if the result is positive, or a text if it’s negative and further course of action is informed.
The tests are carried out in negative pressure room as it prevents any droplets from the samples escaping. Inside, these labs two doctors in bright yellow protective clothing are moving around the sealed room. They lift up a number of test tubes and get to work.
Inside such labs dozens of machines are whirring away and processing results. These are PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests in very basic terms it is searching for the presence of Covid-19 in the sample. The whole process from test tube to test result is about five to six hours.
Health officials believe this approach may be saving lives. The fatality rate for coronavirus in South Korea is 0.7%. Globally the World Health Organization has reported 3.4% — but scientists estimate that the death rate is lower because not all cases are reported.
There is no shortage of testing kits in South Korea, as four companies have been given approval to make them. It means the country has the capacity to test 140,000 samples a week. The accuracy of South Korea’s Covid-19 test is around 98%. The ability to test so many people has made the country a role model as others look to battle their own coronavirus outbreaks.
Korean calls this “bali bali” gene. Bali means quick in Korean because the South Koreans managed to design and create a test, set up a network of labs across the country and get it all to work in 17 days. But this has come from bitter experience. South Korea learned the risk of new infection and its ramifications from the experience of the Middle East Respiratory syndrome (Mers) back in 2015, when thirty-six people died in South Korea during the Mers outbreak. It forced the country to reassess its approach to infectious diseases. So South Korea’s Centres for Disease Control even set up a special department to prepare for the worst. In this case, that preparation appears to have paid off.
Perhaps South Korea believes early patient detection with accurate tests followed by isolation can lower the mortality rate and prevent the virus from spreading is to learn from the past and prepare systems in advance… that might be the true power to overcome this new kind of disaster. The initial reaction was to quarantine everyone infected with the virus in a hospital bed, but now the doctors have learned to treat those with mild symptoms in residential centres and leave the clinical beds for those needing critical care.
The preventative measures being taken in South Korea have so far involved no lockdowns, no roadblocks and no restriction on movement. Rather trace, test and treat is the goal. So far in South Korea over 50 million people have been doing their bit to help. Schools remain closed, offices are encouraging people to work from home, large gatherings have stopped.
However, slowly, day by day, more people are creeping back onto the streets of the capital city, Seoul. Restaurants, buses and subways are beginning to get busy again. Dealing with the threat of coronavirus is the new normal. Most people wear masks (if they can get hold of one).
There are thermal imaging cameras in the entrances to major buildings. Bottles of hand sanitisers have been placed in lifts. There are even people dressed in costumes at subway entrances reminding people to wash your hands.
This may be the new normal for South Korea and elsewhere. But health officials are still on edge and warning there is no room for complacency. One large outbreak at a church, office, exercise class or apartment block can change everything.
A lot to learn from South Korea but in size and magnitude India is quite large to follow either Chinese Model of lock down nor Korean model of trying to test every Indian. But India can’t wait for arrival of bali bali gene moment rather focus on Social Distancing, Testing of citizens those feels symptoms, do community testing to understand level of virus presence and build appropriate testing centres to ensure India is not distracted from its mission dealing COVID19. Even WHO recently appreciated efforts of India so far in restricting the virus transmission within communities.
So do back in Bhubaneswar, hear the state Govt. asked the public those are arriving from international travel must register online, get free medical advice, cash incentive and go fourteen day self isolation. But isolation must take place directly from arrival by Govt. than sending passengers into home or hotel for self-isolation by making others Vulnerable. Yes Govt. rightly explained present situations by drawing analogy between Odias’ most revered Lord Jagannath’s annual illness and 14-day self-isolation ritual with the 14-day isolation practice with COVID19 “Home quarantine is nothing new for us. Even lord Jagannath undergoes home quarantine after being sick in Debasnana purnima”.
In other words one need to hope Let Lord Jagannath’s annual illness analogy be Bhubaneswar’s bali bali moment.
(Dr. Rout an Urban Planner with Practitioner of Urban Management can be reached Twitter @piyushrout Views are Personal)