Korea reported 25 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, the fifth consecutive day that daily occurrences stayed around 30, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since the nation found its first confirmed patient on Jan, 20, the accumulative total has reached 10,537.
Local medical institutions cured and discharged an additional 79 patients, pushing up the total of recovered cases to 7,447 as of midnight Sunday with the recovery rate hovering above 70 percent. Three more patients died to raise the death toll to 217, and the mortality rate, about 2 percent.
While presiding over the daily COVID-19 meeting, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the government would evaluate the result of the social distancing campaign so far, and discuss whether to switch to the “life quarantine system” later this week. The government began to enforce the two-week social distancing drive on March 22 and extended it once until April 19.
The public health authorities believe the new coronavirus outbreaks have recently entered a stable state, and are considering transiting to a system, in which they would allow for a certain level of regular activities to prepare for a long-term fight against the pandemic.
“Easing the preventive measure does not mean that we are going back to the normal life of the pre-COVID-19 pandemic days,” Prime Minister Chung said. “We may not be able to go back to normal life for a long time -- or maybe forever.”
The COVID-19 czar of the Moon Jae-in administration reiterated that the government would carefully decide the timing of such a transit as well as detailed steps because any hasty decision to relax quarantine can cause “irreversible results.”
Even before the government takes its action, the social distancing among the public has shown some signs of breaking down, as citizens are pouring out into streets and public parks.
According to the Korea Railroad Corporation, about 62,000 people used Korea Train Express on Saturday, up 12.7 percent from last week. On highways, vehicle processions were observed as the number of people driving their own cars has increased. The number of vehicles passing through the tolls increased by 573,233 compared to the weekend just before the social distancing took into effect.
The KCDC also reiterated its decision on Monday to force the violators of self-isolation to wear the wristbands in two weeks.
The move came as both the number of self-isolated people and that of violators are increasing. The number of self-quarantined people increased from 32,898 to 56,856 as of Friday, rising by 24,000 in a week. The government believes that the number can grow to a maximum of 90,000. The police are investigating a total of 106 people for violating containment guidelines. Among them, 11 cases were sent to the prosecutors’ office in charge of violation.
Still, the debates on the practical effect of the electronic bracelets are going on.
“It is doubtful that how many people would agree to wear the band if the government would not force it by law,” Professor Jung Ki-seok at Hallym University Sacred Hospital said. “Also, we cannot create a basis to enforce the measure at the moment.”
For example, a man in his 60s who entered Korea from the United States recently broke loose from self-quarantine and visited sauna and restaurant in Seoul’s Songpa District on Saturday, after reporting using the false address and cellphone number to immigration officials.
As of midnight Sunday, the nation tested 518,743 suspected patients and completed 505,352 tests. The number of tested patients who responded negatively to the diagnostic test was 494,815. The other 13,391 suspected patients are still undergoing tests. The accumulated confirmation rate remained at 2.1 percent.
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