The government announced Sunday to ease social distancing to Level 2 in the Seoul metropolitan area for the next two weeks. But it will tighten the quarantine measures again for two weeks from September 28 by designating the Chuseok holiday as the special quarantine period. “We considered the effect of quarantine measures we adopted as well as the fatigue of our society towards quarantine,” said Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun.
The capital area adopted social distancing Level 2.5 from August 30. When it is relaxed to Level 2, the ban on drinking or eating at franchise coffee shops, eating at restaurants after 9:00 p.m., gathering of more than 10 people at cram schools, study rooms and cafes and gathering at indoor gyms will be lifted. But the remote classes of kindergartens, primary schools, middle schools and high schools will continue until September 20. Whether children will go back to school is to be announced within this week after discussions.
The number of new cases as of 12:00 a.m. on Sunday was 121 and it has been three digits for 11 consecutive days. There were 99 domestically infected cases, which is two digits recorded for the first time in 30 days. But the crisis is ongoing as patients with unknown infection routes still account for more than 20 percent and the influx of overseas patients is increasing. It seems that the government tried to find a middle ground between quarantine and economy because of the fatigue towards social distancing and the damage of small business owners after contemplating on whether to extend Level 2.5. But it will tighten up the quarantine measures again because holidays including Chuseok, the National Foundation Day, the Hangeul Day could be a critical point to contain the spread of the virus.
As time passes, it becomes more and more clear that the battle against COVID-19 will be inevitably prolonged. The number of confirmed cases worldwide was 28.94 million and the death toll was 925,000 as of Sunday. The death toll is increasing sharply. An infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci recently projected that going back to normal life would not be possible until the end of next year even though vaccines are released within this year.
Taking down the social distancing level by a notch is necessary given the livelihood of small business owners and the social fatigue, but the government should make sure that it does not send out a wrong message to slacken the tension on quarantine. It should pull up the reins in businesses and people’s lives and make the best efforts to persuade citizens and fill up the loopholes. Experts point out that the current policy repeating putting and lifting temporary lockdowns has its limits in a situation where we need to prepare for influenza epidemics in autumn and winter. In the end, it would have to come up with a more sustainable quarantine plan to brace up for the protracted battle.