A beacon for ending lockdowns

Strategies do exist to reopen societies as COVID-19 is suppressed. South Korea just set an example.

AP
A voter casts a ballot in South Korea's April 15 parliamentary elections. Among other safety measures, voters had to wear masks and move between lines of tape at polling stations.

Many nations looking for the best way to end a coronavirus shutdown watched with awe Wednesday as millions of South Koreans ventured outside and voted. The casting of ballots was the world’s first national-level election since the virus outbreak was declared a global pandemic.

The election was a model of how to safely run the voting process – even those in mandatory quarantine were given special protection at the 14,000 voting stations. Korean voters felt safe enough that more than two-thirds turned out, the highest rate in 28 years.

Yet on a grander scale, the election demonstrated that an ideal exit strategy from the crisis does exist – if countries are open and smart about discovering it.

Leaders everywhere are searching for the right path to end lockdowns, social distancing, school closures, and similar impositions on daily life. “These are unprecedented times, and so we need to think on a scale that would previously be considered unimaginable,” Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida, told The New York Times.

South Korea was so rigorous in safeguarding the election that its president, Moon Jae-in, said the country “will be able to give hope to the world that we can resume a normal life.” Several world leaders in fact did praise the country for the way it conducted the vote.

Once home to the world’s second-largest outbreak of COVID-19, South Korea is also a model for a quick and effective reduction of the fatality rate. Just as effective was the government’s radical transparency about the crisis and the measures needed to end it. That led to a high rate of voluntary compliance.

Mr. Moon and his ruling Democratic Party were rewarded at the polls for their success. The DP and its sister party won three-fifths of the seats in the National Assembly. The stunning majority gives Mr. Moon more power to now deal with an economic slowdown.

A few other countries, such as Germany and Denmark, are skillfully if gingerly reopening their societies. They are not hoping for the best. They are relying on the best in society – from scientists to civil servants – to build up trust among the public. The trust, at least in South Korea, is that an exit plan is both possible and near.

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