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(LEAD) Strict social distancing should go further: health authorities

All News 16:42 April 01, 2020

(ATTN: RECASTS headline; CLARIFIES in paras 1-6, 8-9)

SEOUL, April 1 (Yonhap) -- Despite growing fatigue among citizens over a prolonged social distancing campaign, South Korea needs to further extend its nationwide drive, rather than loosening it up, as there are still risks from new cases steadily popping up, the country's health authorities said Wednesday.

The country launched a strict, two-week-long social distancing drive on March 22 urging people to keep a safe distance from each other by putting off all meetings, avoiding crowds and working from home to minimize contacts.

People keep their distance and practice social distancing as they wait in a line to enter a courthouse in southern Seoul on March 30, 2020. (Yonhap)

The measures were scheduled to end on April 5, but the authorities stressed that they should be extended given the current trend of new COVID-19 cases in the country.

Backed by the strong measures and nationwide support from citizens, the country's new virus cases have been on the wane, hovering around 100 daily for the past 20 days. But it is not the time to loosen up the measures, according to Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip.

"The government is aware that people are getting restless and worried, but with small scale cluster outbreaks being reported in hospitals and religious facilities, the present situation remains difficult," he said in a news briefing. "Maintaining the current social distancing drive is necessary for the time being."

"We can expect more effect from the social distancing drive and we can go back to normal life at an earlier date," he said.

A teacher records a lecture for online education at a high school in Seoul on March 31, 2020, as the education ministry decided to open schools in stages from April 9, with online classes for middle and high school senior students first.

Underscoring concerns over community spread, the country on Tuesday again pushed back the new school year with the introduction of online classes. The opening of kindergartens and child care centers has been delayed indefinitely.

Seoul had originally wanted to ease social distancing starting next week and adopt a more sustainable way of continuing the quarantine system while also allowing citizens to return to normal.

The proposed guidelines under review call for citizens to go about their daily activities in a way that minimizes the risks of virus infections.

South Korea reported 101 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Tuesday, bringing the total number here to 9,887 since the first infection was confirmed on Jan. 20. The death toll has reached 165, with 5,567 people making full recoveries.

yonngong@yna.co.kr
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