43.7 Overall Score (down 8.3 since Aug 1st.)

South Korea

  • 50.5 Public Health
  • 19.4 Financial
  • 88 Fact-Based
  • 50.5 Public Health
  • 19.4 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 Jan 1.)

Public Health Directives

South Korea’s public health policy is at 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 2
  • Public event cancellations 2
  • Testing policy 0
  • Emergency healthcare investments/capita $71.16
  • Travel restrictions 3
  • Tests/1,000 people 79.8
  • 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 5.8%
  • 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 Jan 1

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 942
  • Death rate per 100K 18.4
  • Total cases 62,593
  • Cases per 100K 1,221
  • Percent of positive tests 2.2
  • Change in positivity rates +1.4
Case Trend Line
Daily cases Level 1 Lockdown Level 2 Lockdown
Date Status New Cases/1M
1 Jun 08 Schools fully reopen 0.87
2 Aug 22 Large gatherings are banned, night spots and churches are shut down, and fans are removed from sporting events 5.80
3 Aug 24 Schools close and go to remote learning 6.09
4 Sep 20 Schools reopen in Seoul 2.12
5 Dec 15 Schools close for a month around Seoul 16.75

Differentiating Factors

  • South Korea at risk of first lockdown: Reporting its highest daily count of new cases on December 15th, 2020, South Korea inched closer to its first lockdown of the pandemic. The Seoul Metropolitan Area, home to half the country's population, is currently under level 2.5; moving into level 3 would result in a lockdown. Read More
  • December brings country's deadliest day: December 16th saw South Korea's deadliest day of the pandemic, as 22 people died in 24 hours, bringing the country's total death toll to 634, with dramatically rising cases. Read More
  • Study suggests virus can infect others in less than five minutes: A study conducted after two South Korean diners were infected in a restaurant by an asymptomatic carrier has found that the coronavirus can travel farther than six feet, and cause infection, in under five minutes, spelling bad news for restaurants. 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
  • New outbreak linked to anti-government church: Officials linked Seoul's latest outbreak to the Sarang Jeil Church, which is known for its antigovernment stance. Congregants, many of whom traveled across the country to attend services and political rallies in August, have accused the government of scapegoating Christians as COVID spreaders. Read More
  • Doctors strike as cases rise: The Korea Medical Association coordinated a three-day doctors strike, with plans for another in September in solidarity with intern and resident doctors who have been on strike since late August over the government's plans to boost the number of medical students and introduce telemedicine nationwide. Read More
Compared with Other African Countries
  • 22.3
    China 96,023
    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.

  • 79.6
    Japan 239,068
    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.

  • 79.1
    Taiwan 802
    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