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S. Korea begins post-social distancing life with mix of hope, anxiety

All News 13:24 May 06, 2020

By Lee Minji

SEOUL, May 6 (Yonhap) -- South Koreans began an unprecedented post-social distancing life Wednesday, hopefully welcoming the transition yet remaining cautious over possible COVID-19 breakouts.

Starting Wednesday, South Korea has officially shifted to "everyday life quarantine" following more than two months of "intensive social distancing" in line with a consistent and continuous flattening of the country's coronavirus curve.

This means that as long as they follow the government's new hygiene guideline, people can now take part in outdoor activities and mass-gathering events, such as working out at gyms, clubbing and attending Sunday religious services.

On the first day of new quarantine scheme, changes were not so apparent at first sight.

Most people on subways and buses wore face masks, with the exception of a handful of people who were wearing their masks lower or not wearing them at all.

Streets in central Seoul were relatively busy as usual and commuting hour-crowds on public transportation remained similar to the past few weeks, as most large companies already began to shift to office working starting in April.

Visitors, who applied for tickets in advance, walk around the National Museum of Korea in Seoul on May 6, 2020. (Yonhap)

At the same time, the social changes are expected to start permeating into everyday life more in the coming weeks as public facilities, such as libraries, museums and galleries, reopen.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government said that its key museums and galleries will start accepting visitors on a limited basis starting Wednesday. People can apply online in advance to visit the venues and visiting hours at the venue will be limited to a maximum two hours.

The Seoul Metropolitan Library also resumed book lending services, limiting it to 300 people per day, while expanding electronic book services.

"We began to accept requests this morning and applications quickly piled up. More than 250 requested to borrow books in just an hour and an half," Kim Jee-an, head of the library's information services department, told Yonhap News Agency.

The city government also said it plans to gradually reopen a public ice rink and swimming pool starting this month, as well as reopen community childcare support centers and welfare facilities for the elderly.

People wearing masks are seen commuting at Sindorim Station in southwestern Seoul on May 6, 2020. (Yonhap)

Most people welcomed the transition from the strict quarantine measure that had kept them at home for more than three months. South Korea has reported 10,806 cases as of Tuesday since reporting its first case on Jan. 20.

"I'm happy that I can finally start going to the gym," said Jung Yu-ri, an office worker who had suspended her regular workouts after the social distancing measure took place.

"It seems situations are stabilizing relatively quickly. Of course we have to continue to be careful, but the fear of confronting the unknown has definitely eased."

Some, however, voiced caution over shifting to normal life too soon.

"I was shopping at the department store over the weekend and felt that around one-third of people, especially younger people, were not wearing face masks," said an office worker in her mid-thirties.

"Seeing Singapore's case, I think we should continue to be vigilant. Wearing masks should be the least we should stick to."


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