|People are on the move at Seoul Station as they depart for their hometowns during the Chuseok holiday in this photo taken last September. Millions of Koreans usually travel across the country to visit relatives during one of the nation's biggest annual celebrations, but this tradition could face changes this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. / Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk|
Korea reports 267 new virus cases; total caseload raised to 20,449
By Jun Ji-hye
Many Koreans usually travel to their hometowns across the country to spend time with their families during the Chuseok holiday, but some changes in this custom are expected during this year's holiday due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chuseok is one of Korea's biggest annual celebrations, falling on Oct. 1 this year with a five-day holiday period starting Sept. 30.
An increasing number of people are talking about refraining from the holiday commute this time, to aid the nationwide efforts to stem the spread of the contagious disease.
Ahn Seong-hwan, 45, who runs a bus company in Gyeonggi Province, said, "I am fearful of virus infections as family members and relatives from other parts of the nation gather in one place and eat together during Chuseok. I don't want to do that this year."
People who have immunocompromised or pregnant family members are especially reluctant to join the customary gathering.
Kim Seong-joo, 61, a housewife in Seoul, has visited her brother's home in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province, for Chuseok every year. But she is considering not going there this year, because her brother is a lung cancer patient.
"I miss my brother and my old mother who lives with him, but I think I have to give up visiting them this year because they would be especially vulnerable to COVID-19," she said.
Some families are experiencing conflict over the need for gatherings as the older members of families tend to consider the tradition more important.
A woman in her 20s wrote on a Naver blog, "I want the government to impose a lockdown during the holiday as my grandmother is too stubborn about the tradition."
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 267 additional coronavirus cases for Tuesday, including 253 locally transmitted infections, with the total caseload now raised to 20,449.
The number of daily new cases has now been below 300 for four consecutive days, but health authorities are staying on high alert as sporadic infection clusters have continued to be reported, raising the likelihood that there are people unaware of their infected status and yet to be diagnosed.
In addition, the number of patients in severe condition has increased rapidly in recent days. The KCDC noted the number of critically ill virus patients increased by 20 in just a day, with the number of such patients hitting a record high of 124. This is raising concerns over a possible shortage of hospital beds and a rapid increase in the death toll.
The authorities said they are working on setting guidelines for Chuseok to minimize the risk of infections, with the Korea Railroad Corp. postponing ticket sales for the Chuseok long weekend, originally scheduled to be available starting Wednesday and Thursday, by one week.
The authorities said the decision on the postponement was made as systematic changes were necessary to comply with enhanced social distancing measures. Only window seats will be available for purchase during the holiday to keep a distance between passengers, they noted.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun called on citizens to put top priority on safety when making plans for the holiday period.
"All of us should make efforts to prevent the Chuseok holiday from becoming another source of the COVID-19 outbreak," Chung said during a government meeting on virus responses.