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S. Korea to loosen social distancing amid virus slowdown


South Korea decided on Sunday to relax its strict social distancing moves this week as the number of new virus infections has stayed low for weeks.

The country reported 13 new virus cases on Sunday, bringing the nation's total infections to 10,793, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

South Korea said it will move on to what it calls an "everyday life quarantine" scheme starting Wednesday, giving the go-ahead to the normalization of schools and public facilities.

Seoul believes it has virtually contained the domestic COVID-19 outbreak, although imported cases linger as a threat. Of 13 cases announced on Sunday, 10 were imported, raising the country's total number of such cases to 1,091.

The nation's death toll remained at 250.

In total, 9,183 people in South Korea have recovered from the virus, up 60 from a day earlier. So far, 85 percent of the patients have been cured. The overall fatality rate reached 2.32 percent.

The country, with a population of around 50 million, has tested 630,973 people since Jan 3. including 3,411 carried out a day earlier.

The number of relapse cases came to 340 as of Sunday.

Daegu, the nation's worst virus-hit region located 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, added four cases. The city accounts for 64 percent of the nation's total COVID-19 cases.

Health authorities are remaining vigilant over the holiday that runs through Tuesday, as many citizens travel across the country.

"We have found around 10 patients in the past two weeks whose infection routes have not been identified," KCDC Director-General Jeong Eun-kyeong said. "This indicates that there are still sources of infections in communities."

"Recently, the number of tests being carried out also decreased in sync with fewer suspected cases. It is worrisome that people's mindfulness over the COVID-19 virus could have loosened," Jeong added.

Nevertheless, with clear signs of a slowdown, South Korea plans to loosen the country's social distancing campaign effective from Wednesday.

Under the so-called everyday life quarantine scheme, schools and workplaces can go back to their normal routines with some basic guidelines.

South Korea said it will still maintain the highest "red" alert for the COVID-19 pandemic for the time being, although it will consider lowering the level depending on developments.

The government, however, reiterated that easing social distancing does not necessarily indicate that people are allowed go back to the period before the pandemic.

"The new guidelines are more of a compromise amid rising social and economic burdens sparked by the pandemic," Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said during a meeting on the government's response to COVID-19.

"People need to comply with basic guidelines, such as maintaining at least two meters of distance from each other, even after we move on to the everyday life quarantine," Jeong also said.

Health authorities said they are closely watching the effectiveness of Remdesivir, an Ebola treatment that has emerged as a new hope in tackling the new coronavirus, although no decision on imports have been made yet. (Yonhap)
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