The Korean government took rapid and intrusive measures against COVID-19 which were successful to flatten the curve of new infections without shutting down the country nor the city at the epicenter of the outbreak.
Still, in light of the continued emergence of outbreaks, the Korean government advised the public to comply with social distancing for 15 days from March 22 to April 5. The government urged the public to stay at home to the extent possible, unless necessary to purchase daily essentials, to visit medical facilities, or to commute. The government also advised companies to implement various methods of minimizing person-to-person contact for employers, such as work-from-home and flexible hour systems. Also, the government recommended those with fever or respiratory symptoms refrain completely from going to work or school and closely monitor their symptoms for the next 3-4 days.
In addition, the Korean government issued administrative orders to restrict the operation of certain facilities that are at high risk of infection or that have a history of mass infection, such as religious facilities, some indoor fitness facilities, and entertainment venues. This is not a complete shutdown, however, and these facilities can be operated if they follow certain guidelines published by the government, such as disinfection, ventilation, social distancing, and mask wearing.
Stronger border control has also been implemented for persons traveling from Europe and United States. All persons arriving from Europe and United States are required to get tested. Those whose test comes out positive should be moved to a hospital or the Life Treatment Center based on the severity level assessed for each case. Furthermore, even if tested negative, Korean citizens and foreigners seeking long term stay should be under self-quarantine for 14 days, and short-term visitors should be under active monitoring. Failure to comply self-quarantine is punishable by imprisonment up to 1 year or a fine up to 10 million won. Those under self-quarantine should also install the self-quarantine mobile app on their phone, so that their local government can monitor their self-quarantine. The government also advised companies to ensure that employees returning from international business trips will not return to their office for the first 2 weeks upon their return. The government strongly recommended that all non-urgent international travel plans be cancelled or postponed.
Furthermore, in trying to overcome the downturn by utilizing both fiscal and monetary policies, the government has utilized the reserve funds and supplementary budget to prepare economic policies for over 50 trillion won to help businesses and households affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The government provided three financial stimulus packages which are composed of programs designed to help maintain businesses, ease the burden on borrowers and avoid credit crunch.* One of the examples is an emergency financial measure that allows small- and medium-sized enterprises and small business owners to delay the repayment of loans for at least six months and suspend making interest payments.** Also, loans of small business owners or individuals that are in arrears may be purchased by the government for restructuring, including postponement of repayment or long-term repayment in installments.
Courts in South Korea have started to reopen after a few weeks of temporary halt in their operations. Before they were reopened, courts took measures such as postponing trials except for urgent cases that require arrest, injunction or suspension of execution and conducting arguments remotely through videos.
* A summary of three financial stimulus packages can be found at http://english.moef.go.kr/pc/selectTbPressCenterDtl.do?boardCd=N0001&seq=4868.
** For details, please refer to the Ministry of Economy and Finance website at http://www.moef.go.kr/com/synap/synapView.do?atchFileId=ATCH_000000000013542&fileSn=4 (in Korean).
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