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.).”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

AP

A woman sits on the rubble as emergency rescue teams search for people under the remains of destroy...
MEHMET GUZEL, GHAITH ALSAYED and SUZAN FRASER

Race to find survivors as earthquake aid pours into Turkey, Syria

The death toll has risen to above 5,300. Monday's quake and strong aftershocks hit hundreds of kilometers across southeastern Turkey and neighboring Syria.
2 days ago
quit their jobs...
PAUL WISEMAN AP Economics Writer

US added a strong 517,000 jobs in January despite Fed hikes

The Fed is aiming to achieve a "soft landing" — a pullback in the economy that is enough to tame high inflation without triggering recession.
6 days ago
Thousands of fraudulent nursing diplomas  were dispersed in Florida. (Canva)...
Associated Press via Miami Herald

Fake nursing diploma scheme in Florida; 25 arrested

The defendants each face up to 20 years in prison.
7 days ago
Microsoft is cutting 10,000 workers, almost 5% of its workforce, in response to "macroeconomic cond...
MATT O'BRIEN, Associated Press

Job cuts in tech sector spread, Microsoft lays off 10,000

Microsoft said in a regulatory filing Wednesday that had just notified employees of the layoffs, some of which begin immediately.
22 days ago
exxon mobil sign pictured...
SETH BORENSTEIN and CATHY BUSSEWITZ Associated Press

Study: Exxon Mobil accurately predicted warming since 1970s

Exxon said its understanding of climate change evolved over the years and that critics are misunderstanding its earlier research.
28 days ago
FILE - Protesters, supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro, stand on the roof of the...
The Associated Press

Brazil and Jan. 6 in US: Parallel attacks, but not identical

RIO DE JANIERO, Brazil — Enraged protesters broke into government buildings that are the very symbol of their country’s democracy. Driven by conspiracy theories about their candidate’s loss in the last election, they smashed windows, sifted through the desks of lawmakers and trashed the highest offices in the land in a rampage that lasted hours […]
30 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Skier being towed by a rider on a horse. Skijoring....
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking for a New Winter Activity? Try Skijoring in Bear Lake

This article about skijoring is sponsored by the Bear Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau. Participate in Skijoring the Bear on February 20th, 2023.  What is skijoring? Skijoring is when someone on skis is pulled by a horse, dog, animal, or motor vehicle. The driver leads the skiers through an obstacle course over jumps, hoops, and […]
Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer, the tests that can warn women about potential cancer, and the importance of vaccination.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...
Macey's

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
World watches as South Korea cautiously returns to life