In just over a month, South Koreans will go to the polls to select all 300 members of of the country’s national assembly. But the election poses unique challenges this year due to the coronavirus epidemic, as the country has more than 7,700 confirmed cases and almost 20,000 people under quarantine.
On Tuesday (Mar. 10), the country’s election commission announced that people who’ve been hospitalized or quarantined after testing positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease Covid-19, will be allowed to cast their vote from home or place of treatment in the Apr. 15 elections. The country’s existing public election law already allows people with disabilities or those residing in hospitals, nursing homes, and detention centers to vote outside of a polling station. Now, the commission has ruled that the law extends to voters with Covid-19.
South Korea kicked into high gear to fight the rapidly spreading contagion late last month, when a surge of confirmed Covid-19 cases traced to the Shincheonji religious sect emerged in the city of Daegu, about 235 kilometers (150 miles) south of Seoul. In the weeks since, the country’s case count rose relentlessly, with hundreds of new cases reported daily. According to the country’s center for disease control and prevention, more than 60% of all cases are directly related to the sect.
In recent days, case growth has appeared to slow, with only 131 new cases reported on Mar. 10. South Korean health minister Park Neung-hoo told CNN that authorities are “taking the numbers into consideration, and cautiously expecting we have passed the peak.” But the five consecutive days of slowing case growth was reversed yesterday, as a cluster of at least 90 cases emerged at a call center in Seoul.
South Korea has been praised for its effective response to the outbreak, cutting infection rates steadily without having to resort to China’s draconian measures of putting tens of millions under lockdown. The country has the ability to conduct more than 15,000 tests per day, and as of yesterday has tested more than 214,000 people free of charge. It has also set up drive-through testing stations nationwide, with the 10-minute procedure producing results within hours. The mass testing means that authorities can identify patients early, quarantine them, and provide necessary treatment.