SEOUL, Jan. 14 (Yonhap) -- The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the government agreed Thursday to seek ways to partially loosen restrictions imposed on private gyms and other indoor business establishments to control the latest wave of COVID-19.
The understanding between the DP and top state health officials was reached during a meeting of the party's COVID-19 response committee, ahead of the government's planned deliberation on Saturday of whether or not to adjust the current social distancing scheme.
The current Level 2.5 social distancing, the second-strongest in the country's five-tier scheme, has been in effect in the greater Seoul area since Dec. 8 and is tentatively scheduled to last until Sunday.
Amid the prolonged distancing measures, the government allowed ballet, taekwondo and other physical educational classes with fewer than 10 people to partially resume earlier this month. But commercial gyms, karaoke rooms and cram schools were left to remain closed, causing complaints of unfairness among affected owners.
"(The DP and the health authorities) shared a broad understanding that new social distancing guidelines need to partially allow businesses to resume rather than banning them outright," Rep. Kim Sung-joo, the chairman of the party committee, said after the meeting.
Instead, the new social distancing guidelines may leave the responsibility of infection prevention on the side of business owners, he added.
"Most members (of the meeting) shared the idea that operations should be allowed (for fitness clubs and other indoor sports facilities) as much as possible, if risks of infection are low," Kim noted, adding that the final decision will be up to the top state COVID-19 response body.
DP Chairman Rep. Lee Nak-yon expressed his wish to speed up the process of completing the formation of collective herd immunity earlier than the envisioned schedule of November.
He also said COVID-19 treatment drugs under development in South Korea should be provided for free. "I think (the cost of) COVID-19 medicine should be up to the government to shoulder," he noted.