Why the UK could still learn from South Korea on how to tackle Covid-19

The political class may be wrong to assume that the British public are opposed to a more intrusive approach. 

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Today in foregone conclusions: the cabinet will meet to formally review whether the lockdown will end. In practice, of course, while there are some signs that we are at, or have passed, the peak of new Covid-19 infections, we are at least a few weeks off from the peak of the disease itself.

Meanwhile in South Korea, the country’s parliamentary elections have proceeded as planned – after a fashion. Voters had to have their temperatures taken, to queue at least a metre apart, and to wear rubber gloves and masks, with those whose temperatures were above 37 degrees taken to vote in a separate polling booth that was disinfected after every use.

Many of the lessons from how South Korea have tackled Covid-19 aren’t easily applicable, because to be blunt, they can be summarised as: first, be one of the countries at the epicentre of the Sars outbreak and draw the appropriate lessons from that.

But others are almost being ruled out in advance on voters' behalf – because of an underlying assumption on the part of much of the political class that they are too illiberal for British voters to stomach. One reason why the debate over how the United Kingdom navigates the age of Covid-19 should be held in public is that the country might well have a different view of the measures adopted in South Korea than the government thinks.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

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