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'Sustainable' social distancing eyed for long-term virus fight: experts

14:33 March 27, 2020

SEOUL, March 27 (Yonhap) -- South Korea needs to come up with "sustainable" social distancing measures before people return to their normal lives, medical experts said Friday, as the novel coronavirus outbreak still poses a threat to public health.

South Korea is pushing for strict social distancing, urging citizens to suspend operations of religious, indoor sports and entertainment facilities for 15 days until April 5.

Local governments and health authorities have been taking administrative action against businesses found to be in violation of anti-COVID-19 guidelines following on-site inspections.

Dolls are placed on seats to promote social distancing at a community office in Gwangju on March 26, 2020. (Yonhap)


Due to extensive quarantine efforts, South Korea has seen a slowdown in new COVID-19 infections. The daily number of new virus cases has hovered around 100 for about two weeks, with the country's total confirmed cases reaching 9,332 as of Friday.

Experts said South Korea should keep up its social distancing drive even after the government's 15-day social distancing campaign ends, as there remain concerns over a rise in imported cases and cluster infections.

"If we ease our social distancing moves at this point, it is likely that the country will see another big wave of infections," said Chun Byung-Chul, an epidemiologist at Korea University. "Until we see a decline in infection rates in local communities, it is better to maintain social distancing."

As the coronavirus outbreak has become a long-term battle, causing difficulties in economic and social activities, the government has been under pressure to find ways to balance quarantine measures and daily lives.

"We are currently discussing ways to guarantee people's normal economic and social activities while maximizing our quarantine efforts," Son Young-rae, an official at the central disaster management headquarters, said.

A civil servant inspects the quarantine measures taken at an internet cafe, or "PC bang," in Daegu, amid the novel coronavirus outbreak on March 24, 2020. (Yonhap)

Experts said the government's quarantine guidelines should be more detailed, with a focus on preventing virus infection at schools.

South Korea's new school year is scheduled to begin April 6, after education authorities pushed back the opening date several times due to COVID-19 fears.

Guidelines on the use of restaurants and other public facilities should also be reinforced, doctors said.

"You can't eat with your mask on, so restaurant operators should think about widening the distance between tables," said Kim Woo-joo, a professor of infectious medicine at Korea University Guro Hospital. "For internet cafes, there should be guidelines that say only people wearing masks can use such facilities."

Experts are divided on when the country should ease social distancing, with some suggesting that people's daily lives will return to normal when the number of virus cases here is small enough for health authorities to trace the infection routes of all COVID-19 patients.

"No one knows when the country will go back to normal, but what's certain is that we should not see unexpected cases," said Uhm Joong-shik, a doctor at Gachon University Gil Medical Center.

A sign promotes social distancing in a cafe in Daegu on March 23, 2020. (Yonhap)

kdon@yna.co.kr
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