As an explosive number of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases are being reported in Korea, the government is making a desperate pitch to contain the outbreak, utilizing every means in its hands to get relevant information on the epidemic and diagnose symptomatic people quickly.
In an effort to alert the public about the danger of the respiratory disease, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) has been conducting a briefing twice a day since late January on the number of confirmed cases, death tolls and the measures it has been taking against the viral spread.
The government has shared detailed information regarding the spread of COVID-19, making real-time updates on people infected with the virus – where they had gone and whom they had met before they were diagnosed with the disease. It has made the information available online and issued emergency alerts on mobile phones. It has even made use of Kakao Talk, a messenger app, in these efforts.
Some local governments have installed drive-thru coronavirus test facilities in Daegu, Goyang, and now Seoul. Healthcare teams in protective clothing at clinics check if drivers in cars have fever or breathing problems. This entire process of diagnosis is supposed to take less than 10 minutes, or one third of the duration of a regular test.
It is not government officials alone that are striving to stop the contagion. Pharmacists, mathematicians, and even middle school and high school students join the effort.
Here are three teams from the non-governmental sector that work to prevent the virus from spreading.
Komipharm, a biopharmaceutical company based in Siheung, 28.5km from Seoul, has come up with a drug, which the company says can help prevent the condition of a COVID-19 patient from worsening.
Komipharm researchers have found the candidate drug has the potential of controlling a “cytokine storm”, a condition in which immune cells are overproduced in response to a flu virus attack. When a flu virus invades the body of a person, it multiplies in large numbers and spreads to other organs. When there is a virus load in the body, a great number of immune cells would be activated. If too many cells are activated, they could also attack the host’s body, which later worsens the flu symptoms or damage body organs.
Komipharm’s candidate drug, Panaphix, allegedly puts the signaling of immune cells under control and thus prevents a cytokine storm. The company declined to go into details about how the drug works.
Although this is not the cure or a vaccine of COVID-19, Panaphix has caught the eye of medical experts. Two hospitals are now running drug tests on 100 COVID-19 patients.
“The company needs to see how the tests go first before we discuss the possibility of mass production,” says an official of Komipharm.
Leading mathematicians are also trying to help stop the spread of the virus using algebraic equations. On February 13, three mathematicians gathered with three doctors at Konkuk University to develop an effective mathematic model that analyzes the current situation of infection and the way the virus spreads.
One of the models showcased at the workshop is called “SEIR”, which stands for four stages of the model: “suspectible”, “exposed”, “infectious”, and “removed.” The suspectible stage is where people who are not infected by the virus yet. The people who have met patients but don’t have any symptoms are categorized to be in the exposed stage. Once they have symptoms, they are categorized to be the infectious stage. The cured patients then move on to the last stage, the removed stage.
The mathematicians say they can calculate the number of people that a single patient, dubbed as the reproduction index, can infect with the help of this model. For instance, if the reproduction index is three, that means a patient can make three people sick. If mathematicians multiply the probability of meeting patients to the reproduction rate, they can anticipate how many people are being infected daily.
This model can predict what the government needs to do to contain the virus. “Let’s say there is a COVID-19 patient traveling around the town freely. His probability of infecting 20 other people is 29.55 percent. If the society can block 60 percent of potential encounters with patients, the probability of mass infection drops to 0.45 percent,” says Kim So-young, a researcher at Konkuk University.
COVID-19 Live Map
There has been a great demand for a map showing the places a patient with COVID-19 have visited, as one of the best ways to avoid being infected is not visiting those places. “Uvirus”, a live map website that tracks patients’ routes, has drawn much attention from citizens.
Uvirus was launched by a team named “Semicolon”, which consists of middle and high school students. Their website also features some additional information including the total number of patients and deaths in the world. It also has collected online hearsay about the disease.
Semicolon says it is planning to “run this website until every COVID-19 patient is cured.”
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