South Korea has decided to extend its Level 2.5 social distancing scheme for the Seoul metropolitan area to Sept. 13 in order to contain the spread of COVID-19. Accordingly, suspension of operation or restrictions imposed on cafes, private educational institutes, and gyms, including the closure of restaurants during late-night hours will be extended for another week. Remote learning for kindergartens and elementary, middle, and high schools in the metropolitan area will be extended by a week to Sept. 20. In regions outside the metropolitan area, Level 2 social distancing scheme will be extended by two weeks to Sept. 20.
The number of new COVID-19 cases stood at 198 Friday, falling below 200 for two consecutive days but far exceeded 100, which is the number that can be handled by the quarantine and medical systems. Twenty-four percent of new COVID-19 infections had unknown sources and only two critical-care hospital beds are left in Seoul as of Friday with the number of severely ill COVID-19 patients rising rapidly. If the number of new daily infections is not reduced to double-digit numbers, the country is likely to witness the collapse of the medical system, where patients die while waiting for a hospital bed, like when large cluster infections occurred in Daegu.
The self-employed, who took the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, struggled to stay afloat amid restrictions under the Level 2.5 social distancing scheme. Businesses and their customers subject to government’s restrictions are still questioning the intensity of restrictions and the criteria for selecting the targets. The government should continuously review the validity and sustainability of the measures to make sure there are no unnecessary over-regulations or quarantine blind spots and to convince those subject to the measures.
It has been made compulsory for cafes and restaurants to log all visitors manually or via QR code but many of them unintentionally leaked the name and phone number of visitors due to poor management of the register. It is necessary to strengthen the management and supervision of the registers, for example by keeping them from public and by shredding or incinerating them four weeks later in order to prevent them from being used for crime.
The number of new COVID-19 infections has increased without an exception following a holiday season. A cluster infection in Itaewon occurred after the so-called “golden holiday” in May and the current second wave of infections broke out after the Liberation Day. The COVID-19 spread out of control early this year in China as the Chinese government was late to impose lockdown restrictions in Wuhan due to Chinese New Year holiday. South Korean health authorities should promptly come up with quarantine guidelines on visiting hometowns during the Chuseok holiday, taking into account COVID-19 trend and expected amount of trips so that people will not have problems making plans for the holiday.