Publication Type

Health and economic outcomes in South Korea and the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic

Euijin Jung (PIIE) and David Wilcox (PIIE)

Policy Briefs 21-15

This research is part of a 2020–21 series on the Korean economy. For additional research, look under "Recommended."


South Korea has been exceedingly successful in suppressing the virus that causes COVID-19. It benefited enormously from the adoption of a stringent set of public health measures that turned out to have been highly appropriate for addressing this particular health crisis and from the acquiescence of its population in adopting those measures, which included aggressive testing, contact tracing, quarantining, and graduated treatment of people with COVID-19. The United States did not adopt comparable public health measures. Even if it had done so, it is highly debatable whether the population would have tolerated them. Jung and Wilcox provide an overview of the course of the disease in each country, review the health outcomes, and describe the impact of the pandemic on key economic indicators, including real GDP, employment and unemployment, and inflation. They examine the policy choices that contributed to the outcomes in each country and conclude by identifying near-term priorities for both countries.

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