AP

World watches as South Korea cautiously returns to life

May 27, 2020, 5:40 AM
People walk at the Cheonggye Stream during launch time in Seoul, South Korea, on May 22, 2020. Peop...
People walk at the Cheonggye Stream during launch time in Seoul, South Korea, on May 22, 2020. People are increasingly dining out and enjoying nighttime strolls in public parks. As South Korea significantly relaxes its rigid social distancing rules as a result of waning coronavirus cases, the world is paying close attention to whether it can return to something that resembles normal or face a virus resurgence. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The baseball league is on. Students have begun returning to school. And people are increasingly dining out and enjoying nighttime strolls in public parks.

As South Korea significantly relaxes its rigid social distancing rules as a result of waning coronavirus cases, the world is paying close attention to whether it can return to something that resembles normal — or face a virus resurgence. Already, a mini-outbreak linked to nightclubs in Seoul has tested South Korea’s widely praised method for dealing with the disease — essentially a combination of rapid tracing, testing and treatment, along with stringent social distancing practices.

“Other countries must be wondering whether our nation will continue to make good progress,” said Jin Yong Kim, a doctor at Incheon Medical Center near Seoul who confirmed South Korea’s first patient on Jan. 20 and has since treated more than 100 others. “But I can’t predict with authority what will happen here from now on.”

South Korea once had the world’s largest number of coronavirus cases outside mainland China, but its daily caseload has since dropped to around 10-30 and occasionally has hit single digits in recent weeks. South Korea on Wednesday still reported 40 new cases, its biggest daily jump in about 50 days.

The recent uptick in fresh infections linked to nightclubs in Seoul’s Itaewon entertainment district has raised fears of another big outbreak. Since the first patient was associated with the nightclubs on May 6 — the same day social distancing policy was officially eased — South Korea has confirmed more than 250 related cases.

It’s unclear how things will play out, but so far the outbreak hasn’t grown, unlike what happened in late February and early March when hundreds of new patients were reported each day, many of them tied to a controversial church gathering in the country’s southeast.

The tried and tested methods of aggressive tracing, testing and treatment and the widespread public use of masks again played a major role in preventing the outbreak in Itaewon from exploding, said Hyukmin Lee, a professor at Yonsei University of College of Medicine in Seoul.

South Korean officials previously said their nation was approaching its economic and social limits. But Lee said the government now has to think about whether it can tolerate small outbreaks and let the economy operate smoothly, or if it should restore strict social distancing rules.

Meanwhile, daily life — of a sort — has resumed.

Long-delayed baseball and soccer seasons began without fans in the stands. Public parks, museums and outdoor leisure facilities have reopened. High school seniors returned to class last week, and younger students will do the same in phases by June 8.

These days, during lunch time, restaurants in downtown Seoul are crowded with office workers, and many have stopped working from home. During evening rush hours, subways are packed with commuters wearing masks. At night, in a park in western Seoul, it’s easy to find young couples strolling without masks.

 

South Korea’s quarantine campaign is often compared with that of the U.S., U.K. and Italy, some of the hardest-hit countries. They all noticed their first cases in late January.

South Korea launched widespread testing fairly early, and in early February it had open public testing, which was available to asymptomatic people, and pursued contact tracing for all confirmed patients. Italy’s testing increased much more slowly. In the case of the U.K., despite its early head start on testing, there were signs that it wasn’t able to keep up with the outbreak. Testing in the United States began in earnest in mid-March, according to a recent analysis in Our World in Data, a nonprofit online scientific publication based at the University of Oxford.

Of the 5.6 million people infected worldwide, the United States tops the list with about 1.6 million while both the U.K. and Italy have more than 230,000 cases respectively. South Korea has recorded a total of 11,265 cases with 269 deaths.

Jaehun Jung, a professor at Gachon University College of Medicine, said lifting restrictions in the United States, U.K. and Italy will likely cause a second wave of COVID-19 that he said could be “much bigger and more severe.”

In South Korea, officials said the reopening of schools will likely be a major yardstick for whether authorities can maintain the relaxed restrictions. The French government said last week that about 70 virus cases had been linked to schools, one week after a third of French schoolchildren went back to school in an easing of the coronavirus lockdown.

There is a sense that South Korea’s hard-won gains could be reversed without vigilance.

“South Korea will face a second virus wave, too. Whether there are outbreaks that are 10 times bigger than what happened in Itaewon or smaller ones, we’ll continue to see them,” said Kim, the doctor at Incheon Medical Center. “If we consider our high population density … we are rather more vulnerable to the virus than (even the U.S.).”

Today’s Top Stories

AP

The White House to ask for less money to fund border wall...
ACACIA CORONADO and GISELA SALOMON Associated Press

Increase in Venezuelan migration is felt across US

Dave and Dujanovic discuss the causes of immigration and are joined by U of U political science professor. Listen live at 10:05 EAGLE PASS, Texas (AP) — It cost Nerio two months and everything he had to get from Venezuela to the U.S., traveling mainly by foot and watching as exhausted fellow migrants were assaulted […]
14 hours ago
In Iran, protests have led to violent clashes between citizens and security forces. Protesters pict...
The Associated Press

At least 9 killed as Iran protests over woman’s death spread

The scope of Iran's ongoing unrest, the worst in several years, still remains unclear as protesters in more than a dozen cities.
4 days ago
U.S. Capitol pictured. The House just voted on an election law...
MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press

House passes election law overhaul in response to Jan. 6

The bill, which is similar to bipartisan legislation moving through the Senate, would overhaul an arcane 1800s-era statute known as the Electoral Count Act
5 days ago
Trump pictured. A lawsuit against Trump was just filed in new york...
Associated Press

NY attorney general sues Donald Trump and his company

Attorney General Letitia James' lawsuit is the culmination of the Democrat's three-year civil investigation of Trump and the Trump Organization.
6 days ago
el helicoide caracas...
RODRIQUE NGOWI, GISELA SALOMON and CLAUDIA TORRENS Associated Press

Surprise is key part of migrant travel from Florida, Texas

EDGARTOWN, Mass. (AP) — The chief executive of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services was wrapping up work when she looked outside to see 48 strangers at her office with luggage, backpacks and red folders that included brochures for her organization. The Venezuelan migrants who were flown to the wealthy Massachusetts island from San Antonio on Wednesday […]
8 days ago
school classrooms...
Collin Binkley Associated Press

Reading, math scores fell sharply during pandemic, data show

WASHINGTON (AP) — Math and reading scores for America’s 9-year-olds fell dramatically during the first two years of the pandemic, according to a new federal study — offering an early glimpse of the sheer magnitude of the learning setbacks dealt to the nation’s children. Reading scores saw their largest decrease in 30 years, while math […]
12 days ago

Sponsored Articles

a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
World watches as South Korea cautiously returns to life