Drive-thru coronavirus pods set up in South Korea

A number of local governments in South Korea have launched ‘drive-thru’ coronavirus testing pods to deal with a surge in demand as cases continue to climb.

The move comes as 571 new cases were confirmed on Friday bringing the total to 2,337 with 13 deaths, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

In Goyang, roughly 10 miles northwest of capital Seoul, a temporary testing facility was opened in a parking lot to deal with residents requesting assessments for the deadly virus.

One driver didn’t even have to get out of his car while medical staff in full hazmat suits and goggles leaned in through the window to check his breathing before he pulled away when the brief test came back clear. Others simply stopped to give a mouth swab, with the entire process taking less than 10 minutes.

An unnamed motorist told local broadcaster YTN: ‘I initially went to a community health centre and had to wait more than one hour, so this is easier and faster.’

Goyang has not been badly hit so far, with just four patients, but sudden and rapid surges in infections in recent days have stoked fears of a nationwide spread.

The majority of cases in South Korea are from the southeastern city of Daegu, the location of a church at the centre of the country’s outbreak, which has also opened a drive-thru facility.

Other cities, including Incheon and Sejong, have launched their own drive-thru testing clinics, while others plan to introduce one in the near future.

Kim An-hyun, chief of the Goyang community health centre, told local broadcaster MBC: ‘Here we can test many people within a short period of time in a less crowded manner, and there are lower risks of infection because it’s done inside the car.’

The facilities can cut testing time by as much as a third, officials said.

Much of the public health response has focused on testing and tracing the contacts of thousands of members of the Daegu branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which has a big cluster of infections.

While officials are widening their screening to more than 300,000 Shincheonji members and trainees nationwide, they have also questioned whether the church’s opaque culture is influencing some churchgoers to hide their membership and avoid quarantine.

Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin said the city will file a complaint against the church for supposedly slowing quarantine efforts by initially providing an incomplete list of its members.

Infections have also been gradually rising elsewhere, including Seoul, where the headquarters of the state-run Export-Import Bank of Korea was shut down after an employee tested positive. Some 800 staff were working from home while health workers disinfected the bank’s building.

In the blue-collar town of Uslan, a Hyundai car-painting factory employing some 300 workers was shut down after one of the workers tested positive.

The Covid-19 crisis has also spilled over into South Korean sports, with the country’s professional baseball league cancelling its preseason. The national soccer league has also postponed the start of the new season, while the basketball league has banned spectators from league games.

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