South Korea relaxes some social distancing rules as new virus case numbers fall
The government will stop 'strongly advising' religious organisations, gyms and bars to suspend their operations
South Korea's prime minister said on Sunday that the country will keep most of its social distancing guidelines until May 5, but some controls will be relaxed.
The comments from Chung Sye-kyun came after South Korea's health authorities reported eight more coronavirus cases, the first time a daily increase has dropped to a single-digit figure in about two months.
Mr Chung said the government will stop "strongly advising" religious organisations, gyms and bars to suspend their operations and will allow less risky outdoor public facilities, such as recreational parks, to be reopened.
He said outdoor sports games can be held if there were no spectators. The government will allow a limited number of essential employment- and licence-related examinations to take place if stringent quarantine steps were in place, Mr Chung said.
Despite a recent continued downward trend, the prime minister said that "it's definitely not time to feel relieved."
While saying South Korea must find ways to revitalise the economy, Mr Chung said the government will toughen its social distancing rules if the danger of a spread of the virus increases again.
The slightly relaxed guidelines mean high-risk facilities like churches will no longer have to close, while sports matches such as soccer can resume without no spectators.
"It is safest to maintain the intensive social distancing, but it isn't easy realistically. We need to find a middle ground," the prime minister told a televised meeting of government officials.
"If we can maintain stable management at the current level, we will shift to 'routine social distancing' from May 6," Mr Chung said.
Health authorities said this would allow a reopening of the economy, while maintaining guidelines on disinfection and preventing the spread of the virus.
It was the first time since February 18 that South Korea reported a single-digit daily rise in new infections. The figure brought total cases to 10,661.
Of the new cases, five were imported, the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said. The death toll rose to 234.
South Korea has largely managed to get the outbreak under control and has recently reported daily new cases of about 20.
Health authorities called the trend good news, but issued a note of caution about overly optimistic predictions.
"We are continuously on the alert to ensure we haven't missed any new infections, or whether the epidemic could be spread by asymptomatic or mildly infected patients," KCDC chief Jeong Eun-kyeong said.
President Moon Jae-in on Sunday said South Korea's progress gave hope that Covid-19 is "surmountable" in other parts of the world. Earlier this year, South Korea had Asia's largest number of infections outside China. It has been overtaken by other countries.
"The government will prepare for new daily lives and the new world order 'post-Covid' with the unified power of the citizens," Mr Moon said.
US President Donald Trump spoke to Mr Moon on Saturday and expressed appreciation for South Korea's help in procuring Covid-19 tests for the United States.
Updated: April 19, 2020 01:47 PM