South Korea's response to COVID-19 began even before the virus was identified.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set up a special team on January 3rd for what it called at the time of its outbreak in China an "unknown pneumonia."
That's also when it toughened airport quarantine measures on all people arriving from Wuhan.
Official action from the government came on January 13th when it developed a testing kit.
Three days later, it announced precautionary measures nationwide.
All these steps were taken before the virus was found in South Korea on the 20th, when the first case was confirmed.
And these preemptive efforts came more quickly than during the MERS outbreak, perhaps based on the lessons learned from 2015.
With MERS, the country confirmed its first case on May 20th, and only then did the KCDC initiate its emergency operation and announce a special quarantine for people arriving from 21 countries in the Middle East.
In its 2015 whitebook, the health ministry blamed as a major reason for the rapid spread of MERS the inadequacy of its preparation and early-stage response.
Also, given its past experience, the KCDC, this time, has ehanced the capacity of triages or pre-diagnostic sites,… which it says are critical to preventing potential patients from spreading the virus in hospital.
10 days after COVID-19 was found in Korea, the government designated nearly 300 triages across the country, including public health centers.
In the MERS outbreak, triage centers didn't start operating until three weeks after the first case.
Patients suspected of having MERS were not isolated from the others, allowing the infection to spread quickly in hospitals, which was blamed for more than 90 percent of the confirmed cases.
"Triage is critical in stopping hospital infections. But in 2015, when MERS broke out, we didn't grasp the significance of triages nor did we have the resources to build them immediately. That was especially the case at local public health centers."
Based on these modifications in the early response to COVID-19, South Korea has so far kept the infection rate lower than that of MERS.
As of Tuesday, 30 days into the outbreak, the confirmed cases of COVID-19 stands at 31 while MERS, by that time, had reached 166.
Lee Kyung-eun, Arirang News.