• Doctor Min Pok-Kee told Wired that the US was "very late" in realising the importance of mass-testing for the virus and now risked suffering an Italian-style crisis, the effects of which would spread across the world.
  • "Trump has spoken dismissively about testing because of his ego. As we scientists see it, he's motivated by pride," Min Pok-Kee said.
  • He added: "In the US, Trump is talking about taking care of his own, but the entire world has to respond in sync."
  • The US this week became the global epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic with more cases than any other country.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories .

Trump's refusal to implement mass-testing for the coronavirus in the United States will have "global repercussions" for suppressing the virus, according to a South Korean doctor whose aggressive approach to tackling the virus has been a model for limiting its spread.

In an interview with Wired , Doctor Min Pok-Kee, whose fight against the COVID-19 virus in the South Korean city of Daegu became a model for South Korea's nationwide response, said Trump's failure to introduce mass testing meant it was "inevitable that you become like Italy."

He said: "The United States is very late to this. And the president and the officials working on it seem to think they aren't late. This has both national and global repercussions.

"It isn't enough for Korea alone to survive."

"In the US, Trump is talking about taking care of his own, but the entire world has to respond in sync."

He said the president's failure to impose testing was due to "pride" and "ego."

"Trump has spoken dismissively about testing because of his ego. As we scientists see it, he's motivated by pride. The doctors in the US all know that this sort of testing is appropriate."

The US has this week become the global epicentre of the coronavirus with over 85,000 confirmed cases as of Thursday, more than any other country in the world.

By contrast South Korea's coronavirus strategy has been lauded as model for other countries to follow.

Since the virus hit the country in mid-February, its government has focused on mass-testing, and introduced a process of "drive-in testing" in which citizens roll down their car windows and are swabbed by doctors.

South Korea's focus on mass-testing has helped it "flatten the curve" and take control of the spread of the virus. It had 9,332 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus as of Friday morning, with just 139 deaths.

Doctor Min Pok-Kee, whose daughter attends college in the US, warned the Trump that social distancing should be "instituted comprehensively" in order to avoid the national crisis being suffered in Italy.

"How are existing facilities in the US going to handle all the infected patients? They can't," he said.

"So then it's inevitable that you become like Italy. Korea also could have become like Italy, but we assessed the situation very quickly. What should the United States do? For now, social distancing must be instituted comprehensively, and field hospitals must be built."

The UK's 'herd immunity' strategy was 'nonsense'

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson

Doctor Min Pok-Kee also criticised the UK's initial response to the virus, saying that people in South Korea "were thinking, 'Are these people in the right mind?' when the UK government pursued its initial strategy of achieving "herd immunity" within the population.

This strategy, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson dramatically abandoned last week, was based on the belief that it'll be harder for the coronavirus to spread in the future once it has affected a majority of the British population.

Scientists warned Johnson's government that this strategy risked leading to the deaths of up to 250,000 people.

Johnson has since switched to a strategy of strict social distancing with an ambition to significantly ramp up testing.

Doctor Min Pok-Kee said the UK "offers a cautionary tale."

He said: "Its first response was to say that people would develop herd immunity, though it switched course a few days later. I'd already been concerned about the capacity of the British system, and this made me very worried.

"Herd immunity only works if you have a vaccine and 85 to 90 percent of the population is inoculated.

"Right now, in the face of an infectious disease with such a high mortality rate, for the UK to resist acknowledging the reality of the virus could translate into tens of thousands of deaths. It was unthinkable for a government to put out such nonsense.

"We in Korea were thinking, 'Are these people in their right mind?'"

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