Jung Eun-kyeong is the head of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Centre’s management of the coronavirus crisis under her leadership made her something of a national hero, and a potential role model for virus-fighters elsewhere.
She has been able to broker an agreement with the secretive religious sect Shincheonji Church of Jesus on Feb. 25.
In mid-February, cases spiked at a secretive church in the southeastern city of Daegu. On Feb. 26, Daegu city officials said they would test every single member of the church, including those without symptoms.
As of March 10, CDC had tested almost all of the 10,000 members of the church in that area, and about 40% came back positive. The city, which now accounts for about three-quarters of total infections in South Korea, has seen new cases sharply drop. On Wednesday, officials announced 46 new cases compared to a peak of 741 cases on Feb. 29.
She is a former small doctor, who was also at the forefront of the country’s response to similar situation in 2015 when the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome killed 38 in Korea.
“There is nobody who can do the job better than Jung in this situation,” said former CDC director Jung Ki-suck, who’s now a professor at Hallym University Medical Center. “This job can’t be done just with knowledge. She has experience of past outbreaks. She knows what can be done and what can’t.”
Unlike US and European countries, South Africa has not resorted to “knee-jerk” reaction. This, despite the fact that South Africa was one of the first countries outside of China to experience a large-scale epidemic. Here, there is no lock down, many workplaces remain open, and school is likely to resume in early April.
The CDC’s aggressive early actions, centered on an enormous but focused testing operation that’s moved far faster than efforts in the U.S. and U.K., were a big part of why it was able to avoid more drastic measures.
A week after the Jan. 27 meeting, South Korea’s CDC approved one company’s diagnostic test. Another company soon followed. By the end of February, South Korea was making headlines around the world for its drive-through screening centers and ability to test thousands of people daily.
Meanwhile, in the absence of enough kits, the CDC insisted for weeks on narrow criteria for testing, recommending it only when a person had recently been to China or other hot spots or had contact with someone known to be infected.