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Delivering a Rapid Digital Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Gwanhoo Lee, Jaeho Kim

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 65 No. 1, Pages 68-75

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The COVID-19 pandemic has arguably been our era's greatest threat to humanity and the global economy.16 South Korea's first confirmed case was in January 2020, followed by an outbreak in the city of Daegu in mid-February. However, South Korea quickly and effectively contained the pandemic and became an exemplar for other countries.3

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Key Insights


While many policies and initiatives contributed to South Korea's successful response to the coronavirus pandemic, digital technology was at the core of the endeavors.12 As part of its 3T strategy (test, trace, and treat) for coping with COVID-19, South Korea deployed a software system that traces the contacts of infected patients and disseminates the information in a matter of minutes.19 The COVID-19 Contact Tracing System CCTS) was first released in March 2020 to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC)—a government agency responsible for advancing public health—and was then rolled out nationally in early April 2020. The system greatly contributed to reducing the number of daily new confirmed cases from 909 on February 29, 2020 to 7.42 on average between April 29 and May 5. According to a recent Columbia University study,13 both South Korea and the U.S. confirmed their first case of coronavirus on the same day. However, as of March 2021, South Korea's total confirmed cases are less than 10,000 and its proportional mortality rate is 50 times smaller than that of the U.S.7


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