A coronavirus testing center in Songpa District of Seoul is crowded with people waiting to get tested, Friday. Yonhap
Gov’t eases regulations on private gatherings, operation of multiuse facilities
By Lee Hyo-jin
Health experts believe that the government’s latest decision to ease social distancing regulations, highlighted by a relaxed cap on group sizes at gatherings, would not lead directly to an abrupt increase in infections.
On Friday, the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures (CDSC) Headquarters announced the latest quarantine scheme, effective Monday for the next two weeks, as it prepares to take the first step toward adopting a “living with COVID-19” strategy next month, under which the country is expected to return gradually to normalcy.
Although the current distancing levels ― Level 4 in Seoul and its surrounding areas and Level 3 in other regions ― will remain in place, the authorities have decided to ease regulations on private gatherings and the operation of multiuse facilities. Starting Monday, in regions under Level 4, private gatherings of up to eight people will be allowed, up from the current six, if the group includes four fully vaccinated individuals.
“As quarantine measures are expected to be eased gradually in November, I don’t think that relaxing the regulations just two weeks ahead will have a drastic influence on the number of daily infections,” Kim Woo-joo, an infectious disease specialist at Korea University Guro Hospital, told The Korea Times.
Chon Eun-mi, a respiratory disease specialist at Ewha Womans University, said, “The eased measures are applied mostly to vaccinated people. For instance, allowing outdoor sporting events with crowds consisting only of vaccinated people seems like the introduction of a vaccine pass.”
According to the government, study rooms, concert halls and movie theaters will be allowed to operate until midnight, extended by two hours from the current 10 p.m., but the 10 p.m. curfew on cafes and eateries will remain in place.
In regions under Level 3, gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed if the group includes six fully vaccinated people. Cafes and eateries can operate until midnight, extended by two hours from the current 10 p.m.
In addition, the maximum number of guests at a wedding ceremony has been increased to 250 from the current 49, under the condition that 201 of the 250 guests are fully vaccinated. Outdoor sporting events are allowed to be held with up to 30 percent of the total crowd capacity, if the spectators are all fully vaccinated.
Lee Ki-il, a senior health official, speaks during a COVID-19 response briefing held at Government Complex Sejong, Friday. Yonhap
Meanwhile, the experts criticized a health official’s “unrealistic” remark on herd immunity made during a COVID-19 response briefing, Thursday.
Kwon Joon-wook, head of the Korea National Institute of Health, said, “An 85 percent fully vaccinated rate would lead to 80 percent herd immunity. Then, theoretically, even the spread of the Delta variant can be prevented without mandatory face mask rules, private gathering bans or regulations on operation hours of businesses.”
Regarding this, Kim said, “Such a theoretical approach is inappropriate in the current situation when the spread is led by the high contagious Delta variant.”
He added, “If we look at the COVID-19 situation in other countries, for instance, in Singapore, over 3,000 daily new cases are being reported even though 83 percent of the population have been fully vaccinated.”
The expert added, “Considering the emergence of virus variants, even a 100 percent full vaccination rate may not be enough to eradicate the coronavirus pandemic.”Internet Explorer Channel Network