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‘Korea’s response to COVID-19 serves as model for the world’: Jared Diamond

June 4, 2020 - 18:28 By Ock Hyun-ju

South Korea’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic serves as a model for the whole world, renowned American anthropologist Jared Diamond said Thursday, calling on countries to benchmark a successful model and work together to fight the global problem. 

“Korea has potentially enormous importance for the world as a model. Other countries can look at what Korea has done and Seoul has done and can learn how you have been dealing successfully with your crisis, whereas many other countries have been dealing unsuccessfully,” he said in a livestreamed meeting with Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon on Thursday.

The South Korean government, based on extensive and swift virus testing and contact tracing, has largely managed to bring the virus situation under control without drastic measures like lockdowns, with the mortality rate standing at 2.35 percent and recovery rate at 90.3 percent. Citizens’ voluntary adherence to the government’s guidance – from wearing masks to keeping social distancing rules -- also played a key role.

The pandemic also offers an opportunity to learn from countries like the US, which he said is refusing to learn from others.

“We Americans emphasize what we call American exceptionalism. We think the US is so exceptional that we have nothing to learn from other countries,” said Diamond, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1997 with his masterpiece “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies."

Their conversation was part of the Cities Against COVID-19 Global Summit 2020 hosted online by the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

If there is any lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be that the countries around the world should work together to overcome the global crisis, going beyond strategic competition for power, he said.

“One of the most important messages of COVID-19 is that no country in the world will be safe from the virus as long as any country in the world continues to have COVID-19. China alone cannot protect itself. The US alone cannot protect itself because we will just get reinfected from other countries,” said Diamond, who teaches geography at the University of California, Los Angeles.

While the COVID-19 is a milder disease compared to other deadly diseases such as black death, small pox and measles, he pointed out there are two things new about the COVID-19: that it spreads rapidly and globally through planes and nobody has immunity.

There have been real global problems such as climate change, but the world has failed to recognize it is a common enemy and rallied together because climate change “kills people slowly,” he said.

Environmental problems and climate change are much more serious problems in the long run and in more permanent damage, with bigger potential of killing far more people than the COVID-19, he pointed.

“COVID-19 is an example of a global problem that demands a global solution. I hope the world will recognize that it requires a global solution,” he said, adding climate change also requires a global solution. “Because if we don’ work together, we will all fail together.”

The CAC Global Summit has been filmed from a studio at Seoul City Hall, with mayors of more than 40 cities, experts and scholars participating in the sessions online through video conferencing to discuss major topics from climate to education in preparation for the post-coronavirus era.

By Ock Hyun-ju (