Social distancing will be reformed from July to recover ordinary lives of citizens that COVID-19 took away. According to the government’s new plan announced yesterday, up to six people can gather from July 1st to 14th and eight from 15th in the capital area. Up to eight people can gather in the non-capital area right from July 1st. Quarantine rules on vaccinated citizens are greatly eased as well. If 14 days have passed after the second vaccination shot, there will be no restriction in the number of people gathering, and those who received the first shot can take off their mask outdoors.
It is good news that would console citizens who are tired of social distancing that lasted for longer than a year. As of Sunday midnight, the number of citizens who received the first shot was 15,012,455 and those who completed vaccination was 4,046,611. The vaccination rate stands at 29.2 percent and is rising fast thanks to active participation of Korean citizens.
The new social distancing is categorized into four steps — Step 1 where there is no restriction on personal gathering, step 2 where up to eight people can gather, step 3 where up to four can gather and step 4 where two can gather after six p.m. Kindergarten and secondary school students can go to school in step 1 and 2. Even if step 3 is imposed, kindergarten and first and second graders in elementary school can go to school every day. It seems to be a measure to make up for learning loss caused by poor remote classes.
Experts generally agree with the easing of quarantine rules but are concerned that it could be a hasty decision in the current situation. They say alleviation of the measures should be delayed until late July as vaccination of high-risk groups has not been completed. The delta variant of the virus that the World Health Organization classified as a “variant of interest” is another serious risk. The variant is so strong that the number of new cases recently soared to higher than 10,000 a day in the UK where six out of 10 adults are vaccinated. That is why Korea should not hastily unwind the current stance just because the vaccination rate is increasing fast.
Quarantine rules are only a large-scale standard. The system may collapse anytime if individuals break the quarantine rules and the authorities fail to control their behavior. Cross-vaccination that the government recently allowed due to the delayed supply of 835,000 AstraZeneca vaccine shots is still causing controversy. There is no need to hurriedly alleviate social distancing in a situation where vaccination began to gain momentum only recently. Quarantine authorities should prepare double- and triple-layered safety measures so that the quarantine system does not quickly fall apart.