The government COVID-19 response headquarters, citing Bank of Korea projections, said maintaining the existing social distancing practices could cost Korea 13 trillion won ($11.12 billion) per month, which is tantamount to a loss of about 8 percent in yearly GDP.
The accrued socioeconomic costs of the pandemic-related restrictions, especially the devastation of small businesses, as well as the progress in vaccination rates and the consequent decline in deaths from COVID-19 provided the rationale for turning the tide, it said.
Social distancing restrictions and other public health precautions will be lifted in three phases. Each phase will last four weeks, with a grace period of up to two weeks depending on metrics such as hospital bed availability and intensive care patient counts.
At-home care, which has been the default arrangement for patients younger than 70 since late September, will be gradually expanded to patients of all ages with mild or no symptoms at the time of diagnosis. Access to hospitals or other health care facilities is reserved for patients with severe to critical illness.
All of Korea will be entering the first phase of recovery from the pandemic beginning Nov. 1, and the changes outlined by the headquarters are as follows.
Regulations impacting businesses will be “minimal.” Most businesses will no longer be required to close their doors by a certain hour. The 10 p.m. curfew on restaurants and cafes will be lifted. Movie theaters and gyms can stay open 24 hours a day.
At places deemed to present a risk of contagion, such as indoor sport clubs, public bathhouses and karaoke establishments, visitors will be asked to present proof of vaccination or negative PCR test results. Unvaccinated people won’t be permitted to enter nightlife establishments even if they are negative and medically exempt from vaccination.
Up to 10 people at a time will be able to meet up without having to show vaccination records or negative test results — except at food outlets, where unvaccinated people won’t be able to gather in groups as large.
Large celebrations and rallies can accommodate up to 100 people regardless of whether they are vaccinated. Among people who are fully vaccinated, as many as 500 will be allowed.
There will be more face-to-face learning at schools. Churches will be able to resume in-person services. Workplaces can adopt flexible policies on remote work.
Mask orders and QR code-based identification will stay, however. Wearing face masks will continue to be mandatory indoors, and before entering public places visitors will still be asked to scan smartphone-generated QR codes containing information such as resident registration numbers and vaccination status.
Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong, in a public address, said a rise in patient numbers can be expected as most parts of the country return to normal. Korea should “tread carefully on the road back to normal,” she said, vowing efforts to make the journey “as safe as possible.”
By Kim Arin (email@example.com)Internet Explorer Channel Network