The Seoul metropolitan area, which is seeing a soaring number of new cases, will go into phase “2+α” starting Tuesday. In accordance with the new restriction, indoor public spaces such as public saunas and gyms and libraries in apartment buildings will be closed until December 8, while the rest of the area will remain in phase 2. Other cities and regions will be in phase 1.5 or 2 for two weeks, depending on the severity of the cases, where there will be restrictions on the number of people and opening hours.
More than 400 new cases were reported on average for the past week. Based on the new criteria, which were implemented on November 7, the country should be placed in phase 2.5, the second highest tier. The government explained it considered the social and economic impact it would have on small and medium-sized businesses. It was only three weeks ago when it relaxed the three-tier system to introduce a more granular five-tier system, saying that the existing rules failed to reflect the reality, which means the new rules are not good enough either or the government has been inconsistent in implementing the rules. The definition of “+α” is also unclear as saunas have to close while karaoke is still open.
Considering new cases are rising rapidly in the busy metropolitan area and 60 percent of new patients are those under 40 who are often asymptomatic and social, local outbreaks can occur anytime. The entire country should be placed in phase 2.5, which puts everyone’s life on pause so that the third wave will subside before the winter when COVID-19 outbreaks are likely to get worse.
There is also an increase in infections among students who are supposed to sit the national university entrance exam on Thursday. We have yet to pass the peak of the third wave. The Ministry of Education should make sure that every student, including those who have contracted the virus or are self-isolating can take the exam in a safe and fair way. It should also do its best to encourage students to follow coronavirus rules after the exam so that they will not be spreading the virus.