Exit, socialize and have enjoyable, South Korea’s authorities instructed its folks, declaring the beginning of “a brand new each day life with Covid-19” — whereas preserving a vigilant eye out for any signal of backsliding, any want for restrictions to snap again into place.
It didn’t take lengthy.
On Saturday, simply the fourth day of the brand new part, the mayor of Seoul ordered all of the capital’s bars and nightclubs shut down indefinitely after the invention of a cluster of dozens of coronavirus infections.
South Korea initially attacked the pandemic with such success that it turned a mannequin cited worldwide, all but halting a large outbreak with out choking off practically as a lot of its economic system as other nations have. Now it’s making an attempt one thing simply as tough: shifting steadily, safely nearer to one thing resembling on a regular basis life.
Authorities officers, well being employees and far of the general public know full effectively that till there’s a vaccine, enjoyable restrictions will result in extra infections, and presumably extra deaths. The trick can be to do it with out permitting the contagion to return roaring again.
Different nations, desperate to reopen however petrified of the results, can be watching carefully to see what occurs in South Korea.
“A second wave is inevitable,” stated Son Younger-rae, a senior epidemiological strategist on the authorities’s Central Catastrophe Administration Headquarters. “However we’re operating a continuing monitoring and screening system all through our society in order that we will forestall it from exploding quickly into lots of or 1000’s of instances just like the one we had prior to now.”
“We hope to gradual the unfold and preserve the dimensions all the way down to small, sporadic outbreaks, hopefully of 20 to 30 instances, that come and go,” he stated, “in order that we will deal with them whereas the folks go on with their each day lives.”
South Korea has had practically 11,000 confirmed instances of the virus and reported 256 deaths. But it surely has slowed the spread from a number of hundred new infections recorded each day in late February and early March, to round 10 per day in current weeks.
The nation adopted an enormous, multipronged strategy, together with aggressive testing and contact-tracing, near-universal use of masks, social distancing, and localized clampdowns on scorching spots. It was aided by a excessive diploma of public cooperation.
Now it’s relying on the identical instruments to stop a resurgence, creating a brand new technique on the fly.
“We will’t maintain our society with our each day life and financial actions standing nonetheless,” stated Well being Minister Park Neung-hoo. “However sadly, we couldn’t discover a precedent for what we try to do. Extra probably, our expertise, with its trials and errors, will function a reference for different nations down the street.”
After a 29-year-old man examined constructive for the virus on Wednesday, epidemiologists shortly discovered that he had visited three nightclubs in Itaewon, a well-liked nightlife district in Seoul, on Could 2. By Saturday night, they stated they have been monitoring down 7,200 individuals who had visited 5 Itaewon nightclubs the place the virus might need ben unfold.
Thus far, 27 instances have been discovered among the many club-goers and individuals who had shut contact with them, Kwon Jun-wok, a senior disease-control official, stated throughout a information briefing on Saturday.
The mayor, Park Gained-soon, cited the next determine, saying that no less than 40 infections had been linked to the nightclubs. As he closed the golf equipment, he scolded patrons who had didn’t follow safeguards like carrying masks, accusing them of placing your entire nation’s well being in danger.
“Simply due to just a few folks’s carelessness, all our efforts up to now can go to waste,” he stated.
Underneath the newly eased coverage that went into impact on Wednesday, the federal government is urging folks to reclaim items of their each day lives, and gathering locations like faculties, museums, libraries, stadiums and live performance halls are anticipated to reopen within the coming weeks.
If it weren’t for the ever-present masks, South Korean cities lately would look virtually as they did earlier than the virus. Subways have crammed up with commuters. Lengthy strains have began forming on sidewalks in Seoul, to not purchase masks however to get seats in favored eating places.
The federal government estimates that the medical system can comfortably management Covid-19 if there are fewer than 50 new instances per day, and epidemiologists can hint the supply of an infection no less than 95 p.c of the time — milestones the nation handed final month.
It additionally gained confidence when 30 million folks participated in parliamentary elections on April 15 with out triggering a new outbreak.
However issues are removed from regular. Nightclubs and bathhouses take the temperatures of everybody who enters. College students put on masks in school and usually are not allowed to play contact sports activities. At Suwon Hello-Tech Excessive College in Suwon, a metropolis south of Seoul, each pupil’s temperature is checked 4 occasions a day.
“Complacency is the most important threat,” stated Jung Eun-kyeong, head of the Korea Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention.
South Korea nonetheless finds occasional sufferers whose origin of an infection can’t be established. Ms. Jung stated, “because of this the virus that has contaminated these folks continues to be on the market locally.”
A authorities job pressure of economists and sociologists, in addition to infectious-disease consultants, drafted a 68-page “guidebook for distancing in each day life.” It outlined measures like putting in partitions at cafeteria and dining-hall tables, preserving masks on in church and having guests to weddings, funerals, karaoke bars, nightclubs and internet-game parlors write down their names and phone numbers to allow them to be traced later.
It requires employees with even minor potential signs of Covid-19 to name in sick for just a few days — a tall order in a tradition the place reporting for work even when sick is taken into account a advantage.
The draft was posted on-line in mid-April for public suggestions. One change made with residents’ suggestion: preserving each different seat empty in film theaters.
“There isn’t a going again to the life we had earlier than Covid-19,” stated Kim Gang-lip, a senior coverage coordinator at Central Catastrophe Administration Headquarters. “As an alternative, we are creating a brand new set of social norms and tradition.”