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SEOUL, April 3 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is expected to extend its strict social distancing drive amid a steady rise in mass infections and imported cases of the novel coronavirus.
The government launched the two-week campaign 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 contact.
The drive is set to end on Sunday but officials have hinted at the possibility of extending the period, given the current trend of new COVID-19 cases in the country.
The government plans to announce its decision Saturday after a coronavirus response meeting, led by Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, officials said.
"We've had some achievements (through the social distancing campaign) but in the meantime a lot of imported cases have been reported too, and the capital area saw a rise in the number of infections," Chung said Friday during a meeting with infectious disease experts.
"We should stay awake and deal with the situation," he said, adding that when the government began the campaign, there were expectations that the circumstances would be different by the end of the two-week period.
While noting the growing fatigue among citizens over the prolonged social distancing campaign, Chung expressed concern on Thursday that loosening the drive could lead to increased cases at a time when the virus is spreading at an unprecedented speed globally.
On Tuesday, the education ministry decided to again push back the reopening of schools and move classes online. The opening of kindergartens and child care centers has been delayed indefinitely.
The government's original plan was to ease the social distancing measures next week and adopt a more sustainable approach to handle the virus by maintaining a strict anti-infection system while allowing citizens to return to their normal lives.
Officials are in talks with health experts over how to balance the two.
South Korea reported 86 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the nation's total infections to 10,062, including 174 deaths.
"It is important that people continue to practice intensive social distancing throughout the weekend and avoid gatherings at closed locations," Yoon Tae-ho, director general for public health policy at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said in a briefing.
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