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COVID-19: Were Public Health Interventions and the Disclosure of Patients’ Contact History Effective in Upholding Social Distancing? Evidence from South Korea

Authors Im J, Kim J, Choeh JY

Received 23 January 2021

Accepted for publication 3 March 2021

Published 22 March 2021 Volume 2021:14 Pages 705—712


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 7

Editor who approved publication: Dr Scott Fraser

Jongho Im,1 Jewoo Kim,2 Joon Yeon Choeh3

1Department of Applied Statistics, Yonsei University, Seoul, Republic of Korea; 2Department of Apparel, Events, and Hospitality Management, Iowa State University, Ames, IA, USA; 3Department of Software, Sejong University, Seoul, Republic of Korea

Correspondence: Joon Yeon Choeh
Department of Software, Sejong University, 209 Neungdong-ro, Gwangjin-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea
Tel +82-2-3408-3887
Email [email protected]

Background: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has prompted a global-scale public health response. Social distancing, along with intensive testing and contact tracing, has been considered an effective vehicle to reduce new infections. In this study, we aimed to estimate the effect of South Korean public health measures on behavioral changes with respect to social distancing without a nationwide lockdown. The results of this study may provide insights to countries who are planning to relax their aggressive restrictions though still having an unflattened curve of infections.
Methods: To estimate how the closure of educational and social welfare facilities and the disclosure of confirmed patients’ contact history affected social distancing behaviors, we analyzed public transportation data in Seoul, Korea. For the modeling analysis, we used linear mixed-effects estimation.
Results: Our estimation showed that the average daily number of bus passengers decreased by 21.8% in February 2020 as compared to the previous year with an additional decrease observed in the areas around educational and social welfare facilities. The highest drop in the daily number of passengers was observed in areas with religious facilities. We also found that individuals avoided areas that were proximate to or within the locations that constituted the confirmed patients’ contact history.
Conclusion: Our results demonstrate that public health measures can lead people to practice social distancing. Among them, the measures that strongly encourage voluntary social distancing behaviors would play a critical role in suppressing the infections as it becomes increasingly difficult to continue imposing aggressive restrictions due to practical and economic reasons.

Keywords: COVID-19, social distancing, information disclosure, contact history, public transportation

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