Things are crawling back to normal in South Korea, with South Koreans once again thronging shopping malls, parks and even restaurants as Seoul relaxes social distancing rules midst continued downtrend in coronavirus cases.
In recent weeks, a growing number of South Korean companies, including SK Innovation and Naver, have eased up their work from home policy with many allowing flexible work hours, face-to-face meetings and limited travel.
Over the weekend, mountains, parks and golf courses brimmed with visitors while shopping malls and restaurants slowly returning to normal.
South Korea’s recovery from the coronavirus stands in sharp contrast to coronavirus outbreak outside China, with many countries continuing to impose sweeping stay-at-home orders.
“I’m a member of a community football club and we went out to play on Saturday for the first time in two months,” said Kim Tae-hyung, a 31-year-old power plant engineer living in Seoul. “We were wearing a mask while we played, still worried about the coronavirus, but the weather was nice and I felt so refreshed.”
Social distancing measures though continue to be in place with South Korea extending the policy for another 16 days from Sunday while offering some relief to sports and religious activities which previously were subject to strict restrictions.
South Korea, Asia’s fourth largest economy aims to slowly re-open for business with daily infections continue to hover around or less than 20, with most revolving around cases arriving from overseas.
On Monday, South Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 13 new cases, a day after posting just 8 cases – the country’s first single digit daily rise since the February 28 peak of 909. South Korea’s death toll stands at 236.
Schools though have yet to re-open and are holding online classes.
According to an official from SK Innovation, a battery maker, 80% of its employees are scheduled to come back to work this week; they will all get their temperature checked at the entrance and they will all have to maintain social distance at the office.
According to Naver Corp., which operates South Korea’s largest web portal, around 50% of its employees are likely to report to work.
Employees at Netmarble, a mobile gaming firm, will report for work three days a week.
“We have installed thermal cameras, full-body sterilisers, and table partitions at cafeterias,” said Naver in a statement.
South Korea is keeping its guard up.
Following a 58-year-old man from Busan testing positive for COVID-19, authorities acted swiftly. More than 1,000 people are now quarantined or being checked after coming in contact with that person and his daughter, who is a nurse. She has also tested positive, said city officials.
“We’re looking at the trend of group infections though it has mostly been small clusters over the past two weeks,” said Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip. “If we let our guard down in social distancing, (the virus) could come back and greatly hurt and endanger our society.”