Despite the collective effort to practice “social distancing” to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, Seoul and its vicinity of Gyeonggi Province and Incheon are witnessing a series of group infections cropping up. Populated with about 26 million people, those areas are susceptible to secondary infections. Some experts say that people should practice a “quarantine lifestyle” on a daily basis as the citizens of Daegu helped alleviate the spike of contagion in the city through voluntary “self-containment.”
It has been three weeks since the government officially recommended “social distancing,” and many Koreans are already weary of it. With the pace of infection slowing down a little, the vigilance against the virus has become rather lax as well.
But medical experts warn in unison that it is too early to lower the guard yet considering the developments and Europe and the United States where the spread of the pathogen is in full swing. They say that social distancing needs to be practiced at least until the end of March for it to pay off. “Aside from the infection cases from Shincheonji, the pace is far from easing down,” says Dr. Baek Gyeong-ran, professor at Samsung Medical Center who is serving president for the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases.
Others point out that the government must come up with a more detailed message in terms of the methods and definitions of social distancing. On Sunday (local time), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advised against attending group events with more than 50 participants over the next eight weeks. “The period of eight weeks must have been set after considering the pathogen’s two-week latency and the extended time for third and fourth rounds of infections,” said Cha University professor Jeon Beyong-yool, who was the chief at the Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. “Anyone potentially infectious must not go to school or work. That is being really considerate.”
The direction of “lifestyle quarantine” should be adjusted to prepare for a potential prolongation of the pandemic. The social perception stigmatizing missing class or working from home should be eradicated. “Social institutions and support are needed so that anyone with symptoms can stay at home for self-monitoring and refrain from social activities such as school, work or excursions without feeling pressure,” said Jeong Eun-gyeong, director at the Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
Some people stress the necessity of applying different levels of social distancing depending on the pace of infections. They say the aftermath of social distancing is taking a toll on the low-income families disproportionately as they are more vulnerable to the stoppage of economic activities. The experts claim that except for the Seoul metropolitan area, Daegu and Northern Gyeongsang Province where the number of infections continues to rise, the rest of the country should start getting ready to get back to normal.
But the public healthcare authorities and medical experts warn against the possibility of social distancing getting lax. “There is a concern that the contagion is entering a pandemic stage in earnest,” says Kim Kang-rip, an official at the Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. “Now is not the time to talk about how to alleviate the practice of social distancing.”
Compensation should be ramped up to encourage more public voluntary quarantine. Support for low-income earners who cannot distance themselves from society to make a living needs to be strengthened. “More support for paid-leaves should be made to prevent wage cuts, and other means such as a special disaster funding should be mobilized to help the vulnerable in order to encourage social distancing,” explains Choe Jae-wook, head of the science verification committee at the Korean Medical Association.
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