By Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL, April 24 (Reuters) – South Korea outlined guidelines on Friday for a two-year return to a post-coronavirus normality including flexible working, bookings on public transport and quick restaurant meals in a country that has been a role model in containing COVID-19.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported just six new cases, the lowest number since the Feb. 28 peak of 909 in South Korea, which suffered the first major coronavirus epidemic outside China.
With no new deaths, the toll remained at 240 and authorities hope daily new cases will drop to zero in the coming days after dipping below 10 on Sunday following several days above that level. Total recorded infections are at 10,708 in the country of almost 52 million people.
Widespread testing, intensive contact tracing and tracking apps have enabled South Korea to limit the spread of the virus with social distancing rather than lengthy lockdowns.
Seoul has extended its social distancing policy until May 5, while offering some relief for churches and sport facilities, but urged vigilance as imported cases and smaller clusters continued to emerge.
“Some experts predict COVID-19 will stay for as long as two years, and we have to accept the reality that we can’t go back to pre-COVID-19 life during that time,” Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told a briefing.
“The government is preparing a transition to a sustainable routine distancing scheme with the goal of carrying out regular social and economic activity and preventing COVID-19 infections at the same time,” he said.
The guidelines detail a code of conduct in areas including workplaces, transport, restaurants, shopping and sporting fixtures, starting with general rules such as washing hands, maintaining distance and regular temperature checks and disinfection.
Anyone who travelled overseas within the past two weeks should not go to work for some time, and workplaces are strongly recommended to use video conferences, online training, remote work and flexible hours.
Passengers on public transport need to wear a mask and try booking a seat in empty rows, while mobile payments should be used for taxis.
The guidelines urged people to spend minimal time at restaurants and cafes and use individual plates to share food. The owners of the businesses should place seating apart, divided by partitions if possible, and actively promote takeout and delivery services alongside online payment.
Private academies and religious facilities are strongly advised to provide hand sanitisers but no food.
In shopping malls, customers should not test samples and should wait at least 1 metre (39.4 inches) behind others at checkouts, while shop owners should refrain from soliciting for business and holding first-come-first-served events.
South Korea’s stock market has bounced back and bond inflows lead Asia, as investors bet on Seoul’s handling of the crisis.
Officials say the strategy will only work if people remain wary.
“The biggest sign of danger in our society is becoming careless that the risks of infections are gone,” KCDC director Jeong Eun-kyeong said at a separate briefing. (Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; editing by Philippa Fletcher)