62 Overall Score (up 10 since Aug 1st.)

South Korea

  • 59.1 Public Health
  • 27.8 Financial
  • 88 Fact-Based
  • 59.1 Public Health
  • 27.8 Financial
  • 88 Fact-Based

South Korea has a relatively strong score, brought down some by its very weak financial policy; its public health score is likely underestimated here, given the data’s limitations to adequately account for the impacts of the country’s advanced contact tracing.

Pre-COVID Conditions

South Korea has average wealth compared to other countries in the Index, but scored strongly in every other subcategory.

  • Debt/GDP ratio 37.9%
  • GDP/capita $46,452
  • Gini coefficient (out of 100) 31.6
  • Infant mortality rate (out of 1,000 live births) 3
  • Healthcare access score (out of 100) 85.8
  • Hospital beds/1,000 People 83.2

Government Response

Select a data point for more information
(Data points represent policy level as of Mar 15.)

Public Health Directives

South Korea’s public health policy is above the median, with a weak stay-at-home policy. The data suggests it has poor contact tracing and limited testing, although that is a shortcoming of the data, as South Korea has among the most targeted testing and sophisticated contact tracing in the world.

  • Stay at home order 1
  • Public gathering restrictions 4
  • School closings 1
  • Public event cancellations 2
  • Testing policy 3
  • Emergency healthcare investments/capita $71.19
  • Travel restrictions 3
  • Tests/1,000 people 136.8
  • Contact tracing 2

Financial Response

Even with its low case rate due to successful contact tracing, South Korea’s financial response was weak, particularly its very minimal level of income support and small stimulus package, although it has recently announced a new round of stimulus spending.

  • Financial stimulus as share of GDP 11.1%
  • Income support 1
  • Debt forebearance 1

Fact-Based Communication

South Korea’s government scores strongly in this category. While it demonstrated a commitment to facts, President Moon Jae-in downplayed the seriousness of the crisis early-on.

  • Reliance on science/fact based information 1
  • Press freedom 0

COVID-19 Status as of Mar 15

South Korea has consistently strong scores in this category, helped by its extremely low positivity score, suggesting that it is testing a wide range of people, which likely helped it detect new cases quickly and keep its death rate low. While still relatively low, case rates have recently spiked, which may lead to further restrictions.

  • Total deaths 445
  • Death rate per 100K 8.7
  • Total cases 96,380
  • Cases per 100K 5
  • Percent of positive tests 1.4
  • Change in positivity rates -0.8
Case Trend Line
Daily cases Level 1 Lockdown Level 2 Lockdown
Date Status New Cases/1M
1 Jun 08 Schools fully reopen 0.74
2 Aug 22 Large gatherings are banned, night spots and churches are shut down, and fans are removed from sporting events 7.74
3 Aug 24 Schools close and go to remote learning 5.46
4 0.00
5 Feb 15 Eased some restrictions, including pushing curfew start time later (10 p.m.) and allowing bars and restaurants to reopen in Seoul and surrounding suburbs, end of curfews for cinemas, internet cafes, theme parks, large supermarkets, and hair salons, no limits on business operating hours outside of Seoul and easing of attendance limits for churches and sports events, and allowances for immediate family gatherings 8.89

Differentiating Factors

  • Government uses AstraZeneca vaccine for elderly: In February 2021, the South Korean government authorized the use of AstraZeneca's vaccine for people aged 65 and older as part of its vaccine rollout. Previously, elderly in nursing homes were excluded from receiving vaccines because of the lack of clinical trial data on the age group. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) estimates that the age group will reach herd immunity levels by September 2021. Read More
  • Hospitals extract extra doses from vials: South Korean hospitals are using specially designed syringes to squeeze extra doses of COVID-19 vaccines out of each vial in order to stretch the limited number of vials to cover more people. The practice has raised debate over medical safety and commercial concerns from the manufacturers, who charge by the dose. Read More
  • Preference for domestic vaccines may have delayed roll-out: Compared to other countries, experts assert that South Korea has been noticeably slow in administering vaccines. It is possible that South Korea's slow rollout of vaccines is due to its preference for domestic production and goods. Read More
  • Misinformation spreads as South Korea administers vaccines: A misleading Facebook post with was shared online alleging that half of South Koreans suffer from underlying medical conditions. Health officials have warned that underlying medical conditions increase the risk of severe COVID-19. The post was circulated on social media as the government was attempting to administer vaccines. Read More
  • Privacy sacrificed for public health: Cyberbullying and misinformation has grown after South Korean authorities publicly revealed an individual's personal information to the public after she tested positive for COVID-19. Although some intrusive surveillance measures have been rolled back, privacy concerns have arisen amongst the public. Recently, authorities indicted 13 people for providing false information and lying to epidemiological investigations about their health or places they visited while potentially carrying the virus. Read More
  • Government issues fourth stimulus round: South Korea launched an aggressive fiscal response with its fourth round of stimulus adding an additional $6.5 billion. Policymakers state that this approach will continue through next year to combat the lingering economic impacts of the pandemic. Read More
  • Contact tracing and distancing limited spread: South Korea is widely praised for its pandemic response, which eschewed a lockdown instead keeping shopping malls and restaurants open by encouraging social distancing and mask-wearing, and implementing an aggressive contact-tracing system which made use of CCTV footage and GPS data from smartphones. Read More
Compared with Other African Countries
  • 32.8
    China 101,421
    Per 1M

    China’s aggressive lockdowns played a key role in controlling case and death rates. However, its low score is driven by multiple factors, including the country’s minimal financial response and lack of press freedom and fact-based communications. China’s failure to report testing obscures understanding of actual COVID-19 dynamics within the country.

  • 72.7
    Japan 448,000
    Per 1M

    Japan has a strong overall score, driven by its generous financial response and a reliance on facts, although its public health policy is very weak.

  • 73.3
    Taiwan 990
    Per 1M

    Taiwan has a relatively strong policy score, but its minimal stimulus and weak debt relief bring it down. However, the data does not accurately measure its advanced contact tracing, which may have diminished the need for more restrictions; this likely results in a score that underestimates Taiwan’s response.

Further Reading From Foreign Policy

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New Zealand

Statistics and government response factors available on each country profile include:

Pre-COVID Conditions:

  • Debt to GDP ratio
  • Infant mortality rates
  • Hospital beds per 1,000 people
  • Gini coefficients measuring inequality
  • Health access and quality

COVID-19 Public Health Directives:

  • Stay-at home orders
  • School-closing policy
  • Public-gathering restrictions
  • Cancellation of public events
  • Testing policy and rates per 1,000 people
  • Emergency healthcare spending per capita
  • Travel restrictions
  • Contact tracing

COVID-19 Financial Response:

  • Stimulus package as a share of GDP
  • Income support
  • Debt-forbearance

Public Communications:

  • Instances of misinformation by leadership
  • Limitations on press freedom, censorship

Current/Historic In-Country COVID-19 Status:

  • Death rates per 1 million
  • Case rates per 1 million