After curbing new virus cases to around 10 for the past two weeks, the government has decided to transit from social distancing to a “daily life quarantine” scheme from next Wednesday.
Korea reported 13 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, bringing the total to 10,793, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Of the 13, 10 were new arrivals, increasing the cumulative number of imported cases to 1,091, higher than 10 percent of the total outbreaks. Over the past two weeks, two-thirds of the nation’s daily coronavirus cases were imported ones.
The death toll remained unchanged at 250, as no one died on Saturday. As of midnight Saturday, the nation tested 630,973 suspected patients and completed 614,384 results. Among the tested, 611,592 people responded negatively to the test, and the other 8,588 people are waiting for the results.
The relaxed restriction comes after more than six weeks of a stringent social-distancing drive. Korea has now met various conditions for reopening set by the government on April 19, including keeping new cases to below 50 and the share of patients infected from unidentified paths remaining below 5 percent. Under the eased system, students will attend schools and salaried people will return to workplaces with some precautionary measures attached.
At a daily task force meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said that based on the high level of quarantine awareness the public has shown, the government has decided to ease the social distancing guidelines. He called for the public health authorities, however, to remain vigilant at least until Tuesday when the current long holiday ends.
“It is also the opinion of many experts, local governments, and residents that Korea is now at a period where the nation can shift to an everyday life quarantine system,” Chung said. “The government will allow facilities that have been closed to reopen gradually, and for the holding of meetings and events on the premise of compliance with the quarantine guidelines from Wednesday.”
It will also replace administrative orders on major multiuse facilities with recommendations, Chung added.
Chung, the Moon Jae-in administration’s coronavirus czar, stressed that it might maintain administrative orders on some localities depending on their situations, given the elementary and secondary schools will start their formal academic year this month, starting with 12th graders.
From now on, the government will advise Koreans to follow eased guidelines, which centers on preventative hygiene measures that communities and individuals should follow while resuming normal daily lives. They will allow people to engage in a certain level of economic and social activities while maintaining distance.
The guidelines advise schools, workplaces, or even hobby clubs to designate a manager dedicated to quarantine activities and set up virus prevention measures. The designated manager will be required to actively cooperate with health authorities when needed and has to monitor community members' health conditions regularly.
The health officials also called for people to stay at home for three to four days if they feel sick, keep a full arms-span distance when meeting others, and wash their hands for at least 30 seconds several times a day.
The authorities have stressed that the guidelines do not have any legally binding force and are recommendations. However, the government is considering introducing an incentive system, imposing penalties on those who do not follow some core instructions, and giving advantages to those who follow the rules, by revising the country's infectious diseases prevention law.
Meanwhile, after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued an emergency use authorization for remdesivir, an emerging treatment against Covid-19, the Korean health authorities also said they are open to importing the drug if it proves to be effective through clinical tests.
“We are working closely with other related agencies to follow up with ongoing clinical tests while preparing to import remdesivir promptly in the case of contingencies," KCDC’s DeputyDirector Kwon Jun-wook said. “The government still takes a wait-and-see stance concerning the effectiveness of the drug, but it is noteworthy that the FDA has issued emergency approval for the drug.”
KCDC is conducting clinical tests of the drug on some 200 COVID-19 patients at three hospitals, he added.
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