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South Korea seeks to live with pandemic

Last social distancing rules to be announced Friday; committee for return to normal launched

As of Monday at midnight, the number of new confirmed cases increased by 1,347, resulting in a cumulative total of 334,163. (Yonhap)
As of Monday at midnight, the number of new confirmed cases increased by 1,347, resulting in a cumulative total of 334,163. (Yonhap)


South Korea is seeking to live with the pandemic by relaxing its social distancing rules and launching an expert committee for a return to normalcy.

“If the situation in October is managed stably, the recovery that the people desire can be accelerated. And the pain of small-business owners and self-employed people can be relieved a little more,” said Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum on Tuesday.

Kim said increasing the vaccination rate is the most important thing for a step-by-step recovery.

“The number of first shot vaccinations surpassed 40 million yesterday, and today’s vaccination completion rate is expected to exceed 60 percent. Nearly 70 percent of adults are fully vaccinated,” he said.

“For the next 10 days, we need to speed up vaccination as much as possible to achieve the goal of 70 percent vaccination completion of the entire population.”

Kim said the proportion of infected foreigners staying in Korea has increased significantly, but their vaccination rates are relatively low.

“We repeatedly ask foreigners residing to actively participate in preemptive diagnostic tests or vaccinations guided by the quarantine authorities,” he said.

He said fines for staying here illegally would be waived if unregistered foreigners were vaccinated.

When foreigners get shots, they do not need to report their immigration status. When an unregistered foreigner presents proof of vaccination upon leaving Korea, any penalties for staying here illegally will be waived, the Justice Ministry explained.

A committee to support a return to normalcy will be launched Wednesday. Experts from different fields will discuss ways to return to normal in everyday life, society, culture and quarantine.

“Based on this, the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters will create specific action plans and implement them one by one,” Kim said.

He called on ministries and state-run research institutions to analyze the experiences of various countries and actively suggest creative alternatives for a safer and more effective transition to normalcy.

The last adjustment to the social distancing rules will be announced Friday ahead of the transition to living with the pandemic in November. The new rules are to take effect next week and remain in place for two more weeks.

Senior health official Son Young-rae said Tuesday, “We are currently working on practical work to decide and announce on Friday.

“Restrictions on private gatherings and business hours are a matter to be reviewed in earnest from the transition for phased daily recovery. We are carefully reviewing quarantine measures to ease some quarantine measures, focusing on those who have been vaccinated.”

The daily number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus has remained above 1,000 for four days.

As of Monday at midnight, the number of new confirmed cases increased by 1,347, resulting in a cumulative total of 334,163. This is about 200 fewer than a week ago, but it is likely that the lower number reflects a decrease in the number of tests carried out on the Hangeul Day holiday. Of the new cases, 1,334 were locally acquired.

Starting Tuesday, booster shots -- additional vaccinations for those who are already fully vaccinated -- will begin for workers at COVID-19 hospitals.

Among workers at those hospitals, anyone vaccinated six months ago will get a third Pfizer shot from Tuesday through Oct. 30.

The target group is about 45,000 people at 60 workplaces, including hospitals dedicated to treating COVID-19 patients, hospitals that specialize in infectious diseases and medical institutions for severely ill patients.

They received their first shots of the Pfizer vaccine between Feb. 27 and March 13, and got their second shots between March 20 and April 2.

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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