Plug and Play Tech Center had the great honor of hosting a Webinar Fireside Chat between our Founder & CEO, Saeed Amidi, and our esteemed guest, Mayor Park Won Soon of Seoul, South Korea. Saeed and Mayor Park had already met prior, both in Seoul and Silicon Valley, and this time we wanted to hear more about Seoul’s response to the pandemic.
Check out the video of the full event:
Seoul, the capital of South Korea with about 10 million citizens, is the center of normally hives of social and economic activities. So when the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in South Korea was reported on January 20, 2020, the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) had to act fast and assigned a task force to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak on January 27.
Seoul City quickly mobilized their Smart City capabilities, technology partnerships, and previous experience to successfully flatten the curve by the end of February. South Korea peaked with 909 new confirmed cases on February 29 and by the week of this webinar had fewer than 30 daily new confirmed cases. Their firm determination to face this pandemic and the experience from former viral outbreaks helped them prevent the spreading. Seoul has come a long way through this crisis and is now ready to enter the post-pandemic era -- as one of the role models to other cities -- and we can learn from their approach.
Learnings From MERS 2015 Outbreak
When asked about his response to COVID-19, Mayor Park repeatedly referenced the lessons they learned from the MERS outbreak in 2015. South Korea was hit hard by MERS, a comparable viral infection that spread quickly. The country put contingency plans in place and was now able to build on these learnings when COVID-19 broke out. Mayor Park emphasized that “Speed and Transparency” were the foundations of their response efforts. Seoul has since then transformed into a global open data platform, sharing their knowledge not only with their citizens but also with other cities worldwide.
Image Source: Seoul Metropolitan Government
Good testing facilities are key for transparency and actionable insights. Seoul has some of the most advanced and now globally known walk-through, drive-through, and glove wall screening centers that are able to conduct 15,000 daily tests with results available in 6 hours.
When a new case is confirmed, Seoul City uses GPS technology, network connection history with nearby cellular towers and credit card records to learn where the patient previously had been. Using the patient’s CCTV to confirm their activity, they can then see who the patient interacted with to send out warnings. Seoul City also uses big data analytics to anticipate possible local future outbreaks and high-risk groups.
How do they tackle privacy concerns? The city proactively addresses privacy concerns by having installed strict limitations to only use this data in a completely anonymous way and in response to criminal activity and major disasters.
Entrepreneurship During a Crisis
Seoul already established itself as a technology leader prior to the pandemic with startup clusters throughout the city covering topics like biotechnology, AI, and Fintech. Foreign Direct Investment was $10 billion+ last year and 9 of the 11 unicorns in South Korea are located in Seoul.
Thanks to this strong entrepreneurial background and technological infrastructure, Seoul was able to quickly roll out apps to fight COVID-19 including two released by the government for self-diagnosis and isolation registration. The Seoul Metropolitan Government also partnered with TINA3D to release a contact tracing app to track the spread of the virus.
Seoul City continues to look forward to being better prepared for these challenges, both in the short and long term. Seoul City established their CAC (Cities Against COVID-19) Platform that shares their own materials and experiences in battling the virus, providing additional information like companies providing test kits for cities facing a shortage. Mayor Park has spoken to 45 mayors in 31 countries, including Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis of Athens, and Mayor Pirouz Hanachi of Tehran, in an effort to offer insight to their own COVID-19 countermeasures.
You can see Daily Updates from Seoul’s CAC platform and as of the writing of this post Seoul only had 626 confirmed cases and 2 deaths compared to the 10,000+ confirmed cases nationally. However, with over 14,000 people in the city in self-isolation and multiple industries like culture, art, and tourism absolutely devastated, Seoul continues to work to help citizens recover, including emergency loans and rent cuts for financial support. You can follow Seoul’s response under the Countermeasures section of their platform and you can see how Plug and Play is responding and our other webinars on our Plug and Play COVID-19 response page.
About Park Won Soon
The Honorable Park Won Soon is the Mayor of the City of Seoul in South Korea. He is a global thought leader on Smart Cities, and has spent the last 30 years advancing social justice and human rights, both in South Korea, and around the world.
Elected as Mayor of Seoul in October 2011, Mr. Won Soon is now serving his third term, making him the longest-serving mayor of Seoul in the history of South Korea. Mr. Won-soon has assumed various leadership roles in international organizations such as the Local Governments for Sustainability, World Smart Sustainable Cities Organization, Global Social Economy Forum, and CITYNET.
Mr. Won Soon was thrust into the center of the Coronavirus pandemic. His leadership—and the Smart Cities infrastructure he has pioneered were instrumental in making Seoul a beacon of hope and best practice for countries across the world.
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