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New infections fall to single digits; distancing to be eased from Monday

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

Daily virus infections dropped to the single digit for the first time in 61 days in South Korea on Sunday, but authorities extended a partially eased social distancing campaign until early May, urging the public not to let their guard down yet.

The novel coronavirus’s marked slowdown is a result of stringent social distancing earlier, but the past week’s respite with the nationwide election, Easter services and apparently increased social contact could lead to a second wave of infections, health authorities warned.

As of Sunday noon, Korea counted eight new coronavirus patients from a day earlier, putting the total number of infections at 10,661, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The virus infection killed two more, bringing the death toll to 234.

The social distancing campaign has been extended, albeit in an eased manner, until May 5, as the country heads into a long weekend, with Buddha’s Birthday on April 30 and Children’s Day in the first week of May.

“In terms of preventative measures, a continuation of intense social distancing would be the safest method. But realistically speaking that’s not easy, so we need to find a balance,” said Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun during a meeting on COVID-19, Sunday.

“With regard to the four major facilities frequently accessed by the public, including religious facilities, guidelines on virus prevention remain intact, but we have decided to lift the administrative order that strongly advised them to suspend services.”

Administrative orders on churches, bars, gyms and cram schools that strongly recommended their temporary closure will be lifted on the condition that they comply with strict quarantine rules. Public facilities, such as recreation forests, deemed relatively less susceptible to the virus will resume business when ready, while outdoor sports are to begin games without crowds, according to health authorities.

Moving forward, authorities will assess the level of danger COVID-19 poses to the public every two weeks and adjust the degree of social distancing campaign accordingly, they added.

Health authorities amplified calls for the public to keep their collective guard up against the dangerous contagion, amid fatigue over the intensive social distancing campaign that began last month and growing complacency about restricting unnecessary outdoor movements.

“So far some 30 percent of the confirmed COVID-19 cases were asymptomatic at the time of virus testing. We do not know the exact source of the virus yet,” said KCDC Director General Jeong Eun-kyeong during the daily briefing.

“As health authorities we remain vigilant against the virus, which can be a silent spreader and has a high infectivity.”

Meanwhile, three of the new infections came from the capital area -- two in Seoul and one in Incheon -- while there were also two in Daegu and one in North Gyeongsang Province. Two were confirmed at airport checkpoints, according to the KCDC.

Of the new cases, five were imported, as health authorities maintain vigilance against a possible influx of coronavirus patients.

The number of people recovered and discharged from isolation rose by 105, totaling 8,042, the KCDC said.

By Kim Bo-gyung (lisakim425@heraldcorp.com)

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