South Korea said Sunday that it will end its weekslong social distancing campaign and implement an everyday life quarantine scheme later this week as the new coronavirus outbreak has slowed.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said during a meeting on the government's response to COVID-19 that the everyday life quarantine scheme is set to start Wednesday, adding that gatherings and events will be allowed under the condition that they follow disinfection measures.
South Korea, which has been applying social distancing measures instead of a strict lockdown, added just 13 cases on Sunday. The nation's death toll reached 251.
Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said the everyday life quarantine scheme is meant to maintain distance among people in their everyday lives, not to have people go back to their pre-COVID-19 lives.
Under the everyday life quarantine scheme, people are required to, among other things, stay at home for about three or four days if they are sick, maintain a distance of up to 2 meters, wash their hands and wear masks.
The government earlier said it will move on to the everyday life quarantine scheme when the number of new infections remains below 50. South Korea has been fulfilling that for the past 25 days.
The number of new cases peaked at 909 on Feb. 20. The country confirmed its first COVID-19 case from a Chinese person on Jan. 20.
Under the loosened guidelines, South Korea will gradually reopen schools, museums and other public facilities. It plans to release new guidelines for school openings on Monday with options that include having students take classes at different times.
Park said the everyday life quarantine scheme is meant to ensure that people can resume their economic activities and that each individual is responsible for quarantining.
Park said South Korea "will return to the strengthened social distancing campaign at any time in case the situation worsens."
Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said in a Facebook message on Sunday that the decision to introduce the everyday life quarantine scheme is "an important tipping point that can ignite the ember of an economic recovery."
South Korea's exports plunged 24.3 percent in April from a year earlier due to the new coronavirus pandemic and falling oil prices, and the country suffered its first monthly trade deficit since 2012.
Outbound shipments came to $36.9 billion last month, compared with $48.7 billion posted a year earlier, according to the data compiled by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.
South Korea reported no infections tied to last month's general elections, where more than 29 million voters showed up at polling stations nationwide wearing face masks.
Health authorities, however, remain concerned over the growing number of imported cases despite a clear slowdown in domestic outbreaks.
They also expect another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic to hit the country hard later due to the lack of a cure for the highly contagious virus. (Yonhap)