South Korea expands social distance rules as coronavirus outbreak grows

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea said on Saturday that it will develop smarter social distancing guidelines to curb the spread of coronavirus nationwide as it fights a new outbreak of the disease-fighting disease in the capital Seoul.

FILE PHOTO: Women wearing masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) using portable fans to cool off in Seoul, South Korea, August 20, 2020. REUTERS / Kim Hong-Ji

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 315 new domestic coronavirus infections as of midnight Friday, the latest in a string of three-digit increases in new local cases.

South Korea uses advanced contact tracing and widespread testing to contain its first outbreak of the new coronavirus, but Asia’s fourth-largest economy has experienced persistent outbreaks in recent weeks, mostly in and around densely populated Seoul and the surrounding areas.

The latest numbers take the number of the country to 17,002 with 309 dead.

In Seoul and some surrounding cities, the government has reintroduced measures to divide social distance, including restricting large gatherings, banning personal church gatherings when closing nightclubs, karaoke bars, buffets and cybercafes.

The same guidelines will be effective on Sunday in other areas of the country. However, in some areas with fewer infections, the guidelines would be recommended as mandatory.

“If we do not limit the spread (of the virus) in the early stages, it will grow on a large scale. For us, there is nothing more important than focusing on responding to COVID-19, “Minister of Public Health Park Neung-hoo said in a briefing on Saturday.

Health authorities have categorized social distance rules into three stages – stage 1 is the least intensive and stage 3 the most difficult, where schools and businesses are encouraged to close.

‘If we improve social distance guidelines to the third stage, then it is inevitable that they will take a toll on people’s daily lives and economics. We seriously encourage you to the situation, “KCDC deputy director Kwon Jun-wook said in a briefing.

Kwon said South Korea had supplied antiviral drug inhibitors to treat 143 patients at 35 hospitals, but access to the drug was irregular due to problems at the supplier side.

In June, South Korean drugmaker Gilead Sciences Inc asked to supply enough inhibitor drug to treat more than 5,000 COVID-19 patients in preparation for a possible second wave of infections. [nL4N2EF26B]

The Ministry of Health also said it postponed its decision to pursue policies that stimulate the number of medical students until the COVID-19 situation stabilizes.

Thousands of South Korean doctors have staged strikes and protests over the government’s plans to recruit new doctors, saying there are enough doctors but better conditions and systems are needed to allocate them properly. [nL4N2FN1LX]

Report by Heekyong Yang; Edited by Lincoln Feast.

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