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Gov't struggling to prevent virus spread in holiday season

People line up for COVID-19 diagnostic tests at a makeshift testing center in front of Seoul Station, Sunday. Yonhap

Social distancing level for rural areas to be raised to 3By Bahk Eun-jiThe government’s all-out efforts to contain COVID-19 are falling flat as infections are getting out of control, spreading to all parts of the nation as people travel across the country for summer vacation. Level 4, the toughest level of social distancing rules in Seoul and surrounding metropolitan area, have been extended for another two weeks, and the government decided to raise the level for all other regions uniformly to 3 starting Tuesday.The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 1,487 more COVID-19 infections for Saturday, including 1,422 local ones, raising the total caseload to 188,848.Saturday’s daily caseload is the highest ever for a weekend day. It was down from the previous day’s 1,629, but the decline was mainly due to reduced testing on weekends. It was also the 19th consecutive day for the daily tally to surpass 1,000.On Friday, the government decided to extend the toughest social distancing measures in the Seoul metropolitan area for two more weeks through Aug. 8 as the virus spread had shown no signs of abating since the first adoption of the rules on July 12.Under Level 4, the highest in the four-tier antivirus system, gatherings of more than four people are banned in the daytime, and those of more than two people, after 6 p.m.While the strongest rules are not working effectively to curb the virus spread in the greater Seoul area, other parts of the nation have begun to see their daily caseloads rise ― the proportion of daily new cases outside the capital area was around 10 percent until July 8, but increased to 38.4 percent as of Saturday. This is partially because of people moving around the country for summer vacation.In response, the government decided to raise the social distancing rules outside the Seoul metropolitan area to Level 3 uniformly, while so far the levels have differed from region to region according to the number of infections.The government made the decision during a virus response meeting, Sunday, presided by President Moon Jae-in. It was the first time for the President to preside over the meeting which used to be done by the prime minister or health minister, reflecting the seriousness of the situation.Moon said the spread of the virus across the country is clearly seen. “In response, we decided to heighten the distancing level to 3 for non-metropolitan areas starting Tuesday,” Moon said during the meeting. “We need pan-national all-out efforts, with cooperation between metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas, and between central and local governments.”

Gov't struggling to prevent virus spread in holiday season

Medical workers are seated in front of large coolers at temporary testing sites in Yangyang, Gangwon Province, Sunday, as they conduct COVID-19 diagnostic tests while wearing protective clothes amid the scorching heat. Yonhap

Even before the central government’s decision, some local governments had already raised their social distancing levels on their own, especially as seen at popular holiday destinations that have seen increasing infection cases.Gangneung in Gangwon Province was the first outside the capital area to adopt the top-level distancing rules, July 19, as the number of patients jumped in the eastern coastal city. As vacationers then moved to Yangyang, a nearby city in the province, the city also increased the alert level to the highest, starting Sunday. Daejeon also decided to adopt the highest level starting Tuesday, while Jeju has been at Level 3.The government also recommended people save their summer holiday until after August. “We ask people in the Seoul metropolitan area to refrain from making long-haul trips, and people all across the country to postpone their summer vacation plans until after August,” a health ministry official said Friday.Nevertheless, epidemiologists say as infections are spreading fast all around the country, tougher measures should be introduced.Chon Eun-mi, a professor of respiratory medicine at Ewha Womans University Mokdong Hospital, also said, “Currently, we are only blocking evening gatherings while letting people carry out other daily activities. The government needs to implement restrictions such as limiting the use of multi-use facilities.”

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