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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 27)

All News 07:09 April 27, 2020

Everyday quarantine

The government has posted detailed guidelines on how to exercise "everyday quarantine" in the COVID-19 era, which foretells significant behavioral changes for Koreans. The guidelines cover behavior standards in 31 areas involving work, daily life and leisure.

The rules for people to stay home if they show symptoms such as fever, refrain from going out if having been overseas in past two weeks, keep two meters apart, and wash hands and cough into their elbows are commonly applied. In addition, communities such as workplaces should have managers dedicated to quarantine management and ensure that all virus prevention steps are followed.

There are such specific behavior guidelines as giving thank-you gifts to those who attend weddings instead of post-wedding meals, refraining from chorus singing and eating together at religious venues, and not sharing food at restaurants.

The guidelines will be subject to public opinion because they are recommendations at the moment, although authorities have said penalties will be imposed on violators of some core instructions.

South Korea took the first step toward easing the strict social distancing April 20, emboldened by a steady decline in new infections and deaths. The dire economic situation presses on the necessity to return to normalcy. But social distancing is still in practice until at least May 5, as Korea held general elections on April 15 and because major holidays are interspersed in the days ahead.

After a rocky start in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, Korea has been hailed for its aggressive testing, contact tracing, isolation and monitoring. Buoyed by the success in battling the pandemic, President Moon Jae-in has had requests from nearly 30 nations to share the South Korean model. Thus, how Korea transitions toward everyday quarantine will be closely watched.

Under the pending fine-tuning between the authorities and citizens, people will be asked how much they are willing to compromise on life and work. We should bear in mind that compromise is better than having to make a stark choice between life and death.

The COVID-19 trajectory in Korea started with the first patient on Jan. 20, peaking at a daily tally of 909 new cases on Feb. 29, and new infections falling to around 10 since April 18. The worst-case scenario has been avoided ― so far ― without Korea completely shutting down its economy. Cabin fever and the desire for a measure of freedom lurks in people's hearts, but various developments warn us that COVID-19 is no longer an emergency situation, but a constant presence inseparable from our lives.

Authorities have warned that COVID-19 could return in winter with a bigger impact. Vaccine development needs time, with experts predicting next year at the earliest.

We have until May 5 to work out and cooperate to find what will work best for us and lead the global fight against this virus.

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