The South Korean government has decided to extend until April 19 the social distancing campaign, which was scheduled to end on Sunday, in order to stop spread COVID-19. The decision has been made because the virus cases in the nation have increased to 10,237 as of Sunday, with nearly 100 new cases confirmed every day, despite two-week intensive social distancing practice.
Social distancing has been generating only limited effect as the number of patients from foreign countries is increasing due to the global coronavirus pandemic. As those subject to self-isolation are surging with 6,000 to 7,000 international arrivals every day, the risk of domestic transmission is increasing and some people who violate quarantine guidelines are making loopholes in the quarantine network. In Gunpo, Gyeonggi Province, a couple in their 50s who were in self-isolation after positive test for COVID-19, is facing legal charges after visiting an art gallery and shopping centers. A teenage boy, who was studying in the U.S., took fever reducer before entering South Korea, managed to pass all immigration quarantine procedures that are focused on fever check, but later tested positive in Busan where his home is located. The government used to say Wednesday that it would manage individually one-on-one all people arriving in South Korea from overseas, who are required to self-isolate for 14 days, but sloppy management has been revealing in less than a week.
While the government has continuously failed to fully prevent influx of patients from overseas, South Korean citizens are getting tired of an intense social distancing and are increasingly deviating from the state quarantine policy. According to the quarantine authorities’ analysis on people’s movement using telecom GPS data, the movement volume, which decreased by 40 percent in late February when COVID-19 cases were exploding due to the Shincheonji cult fiasco in Daegu, showed a 16-percent increase last week, the second week of the social distancing campaign, compared to the end of February. Experts have claimed that even though the government has implemented the social distance campaign, the measure without compulsory measures has had limited effect.
If we loosen quarantine measures, all the efforts we have exerted so far will end in vain. Only when we step up and thoroughly implement the social distancing practice over the next two weeks, will we be able to minimize economic damage, while reducing difficulties caused by delays in school openings. For its part, the government should urgently strengthen diagnostic testing and self-isolation management for all people arriving from overseas in order to reduce the risk of virus infection. It should also thoroughly check if prevention measures are well being practiced at nursing homes and densely populated facilities so as to stop cluster infection in our communities.