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Opinion

[Editorial] Stay alert

Social distancing eased with infection slowing; second wave may come at any time

Tuesday marks the 100th day since Korea reported its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus.

Its daily tally of new cases hovered around 10 for the eighth consecutive day Sunday, and the country appears to have brought the disease under control.

The government relaxed social distancing rules for the private sector on April 20, and Friday it unveiled a draft of 31 detailed guidelines for “everyday distancing,” ahead of the implementation scheduled for May 6. “Everyday distancing” is a set of measures that allow people to engage in more economic and social activities while maintaining distance to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But the situation is still precarious.

People are often seen sitting in close proximity in parks and restaurants. Bars and nightclubs are crowded with people.

A 19-year-old man from Daegu was found to have gone to a nightclub and a bar in Busan the weekend before he tested positive for the virus Thursday. Nearly 480 people are believed to have crossed paths with the patient shortly before he developed symptoms.

The upcoming six-day weekend interspersed with workdays -- from Buddha’s Birthday on Thursday to Children’s Day on Tuesday -- is an urgent issue for public health authorities. Booking rates for air travel to Jeju Island during the holidays rose way over 80 percent. Bookings for resorts and hotels across the country are said to have reached 70 to 90 percent of capacity.

Cathedral services, church worships, and Buddhist ceremonies resumed in full swing. The ban on soldiers’ outings was partially lifted. The government also lifted its recommended ban on the operation of bars, clubs, indoor sports facilities and private tutoring institutes. Preparations are underway to open traditional face-to-face classes in elementary, middle, and high schools.

People are prone to believe that the coronavirus disease is gone. But the nation must stay alert.

Singapore was hailed in the early days of the virus outbreak as the model to emulate in responding to COVID-19, but recently reported hundreds of new daily cases especially linked to clusters in dormitories of migrant workers.

Korea has blind spots for disinfection, too, such as areas with a lot of urban low-cost lodgings, homeless people, and foreign nationals who are illegally resident. If clusters of coronavirus cases occur in these places, contact tracing and testing will be difficult, and the disease may spread rapidly. Proactive measures are needed for those who are vulnerable to infection.

The possibility of a second wave of coronavirus cases is worrisome, too. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of a second wave of infections this fall and winter. Korean health authorities say the country could face another massive outbreak. Experts forecast the pandemic may last 18 months or two years.

The coronavirus can spread through those who do not show symptoms as well as those with symptoms. There are neither vaccines nor treatments yet for the disease. A research suggests the virus could have already mutated into more than 30 separate strains. The winter season could be more difficult because the flu and coronavirus might circulate at the same time.

In preparation for this possibility, the health care authorities must beef up medical systems and secure related resources.

The spread of the virus has slowed, but that does not mean the crisis is over.

The government must brace for the likely scenario in which the pandemic will be protracted.

Routine social and economic activities can be sustained only when they are backed up by the successful prevention of epidemics.

Everyday life guidelines have been suggested, but if people violate them constantly and use facilities immoderately, the guidelines will be useless.

They are not binding, so voluntary compliance is required. Every individual must remain alert and follow relaxed distancing guidelines thoroughly. They also need to exercise moderation.

People may have to live with this virus for a long time. If the nation loosens up, a second wave of the disease may come at any time.
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