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Amid slowing new infections, Korea seeks to ease restrictions
  • By Shim Hyun-tai
  • Published 2020.04.17 13:33
  • Updated 2020.04.19 18:52
  • comments 0

Korea's new Covid-19 infections remained below 30 for five consecutive days on Friday, and the health authorities cautiously began to sound out the possibility of easing the stringent social distancing regime gradually.

The nation confirmed 22 more cases as of midnight Thursday, bringing the total Covid-19 patients to 10,635, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One more patient died of the new coronavirus, raising the death toll to 230.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the recent reduction of new Covid-19 cases seems like the “calm before another mass infection storm.”

The number of new patients stayed under 30 for five days as of midnight Thursday, and additional infections are down to a single-digit figure if the foreign inflows are excluded in the count, Prime Minister Chung said. He quickly added that it is still too early to remain complacent because of asymptomatic cases, infections with unknown routes and reconfirmed patients.

The number of infections with unidentified routes over the past two weeks stood at 18, 3.1 percent of the total 573 new virus cases during the period. Besides, that of recovered patients who showed a positive response in retests reached 163, 2.1 percent of the total 7,829 cured cases.

A public health official agreed. “We have yet to watch for another two weeks or so to know how Wednesday’s parliamentary elections will have affected our quarantine efforts,” said Kwon Joon-uk, deputy chief of the inter-agency headquarters to fight against Covid-19, in a daily briefing Thursday.

This notwithstanding, expectations are rising among some people of returning to ordinary lives, if partially, from the intensified preventive measure.

Responding to such anticipation, the government will likely announce whether to transit from social distancing to life quarantine system during this weekend.

The nation has set the conditions for shifting to life quarantine systems -- keeping new cases to below 50 and the share of patients infected from unidentified paths under 5 percent.

At the Life Quarantine Committee on Thursday, the participants also raised concerns about some people may misunderstand that the shift means the end of social distancing regime. They agreed that social distancing has to be a part of the life quarantine system until the pandemic comes to an end, here and abroad.

This is because the nation cannot entirely control clustered infections in local communities, nor can it prevent foreign virus carriers from entering the country if the pandemic continues overseas, the committee concluded.

According to Global Research, 63.6 percent of Seoul citizens believe that the nation needs to move from social distancing to life quarantine, but thought that this Sunday is too early to make such a decision.

The company surveyed 1,000 citizens over 18 from April 10 to 12 regarding the government’s response to Covid-19. The results showed a margin of error of 3.1 percent with a 95 percent confidence level.

Among the surveyed, 51.3 percent of proponents to such a shift cited the need for the nation to overcome the economic crisis by reopening economic activities, followed by 19.8 percent said they need relief from fatigue and anxiety caused by long-term social distancing, and 13.5 percent who replied they needed to resume outdoor physical activities.

However, they mentioned the two worrisome factors in returning to normalcy -- infection with an unknown path such as asymptomatic infection (58.5 percent) and new cluster infections (41.5 percent).

As of midnight Thursday, Korea tested 546,463 people and completed 532,277 tests. Among the tested, 521,642 showed a negative response to the test, and 14,186 people are waiting for their results. The accumulated confirmation rate remained at 2 percent.


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