|The departure hall of Incheon International Airport is crowded with passengers, Friday, when the government lifted self-isolation requirements for fully vaccinated entrants. Yonhap|
Limits on private gatherings eased to 10
By Lee Hyo-jin
The government has decided to ease COVID-19 social distancing measures further, Friday, in what is anticipated to be the last adjustment on the distancing rules before scrapping all quarantine regulations in the coming weeks.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare said Friday that it will relax social distancing measures from Monday to April 17, allowing multiuse facilities such as eateries and cafes to receive sit-in customers until midnight, pushing the limit on operating hours back by one hour to midnight from the current 11 p.m.
The limit on the number of people for private gatherings will be eased to 10, up from the current eight.
The ministry said all COVID-19-related curbs, except mandatory wearing of face masks, will be removed if the virus situation stabilizes in the next couple of weeks.
"If it is determined that infections have entered a downward trend and the number of critical patients and deaths remain at a manageable level, we will review the lifting of all regulations on operation hours, private gatherings and large-scale events, other than the face mask rule," Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said during a briefing.
|Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol speaks during a COVID-19 response briefing held at Government Complex Seoul, Friday. Yonhap|
The ministry noted that the presidential transition committee's repeated calls to relax quarantine measures have been reflected in its latest decision. President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol's transition committee has been urging the government to scrap all antivirus rules once the Omicron wave passes its peak, as the current measures have had little effect in preventing infections.
Medical experts also viewed that social distancing measures have become less effective in curbing the virus spread.
"At this point in time, the easing of quarantine measures will have little effect on the virus situation. The government should put more effort into bringing down the number of deaths by focusing more on vulnerable patients such as senior citizens," said Chon Eun-mi, a respiratory disease specialist at Ewha Womans University Mokdong Hospital.
The country reported 280,273 daily new infections for Thursday, with 1,299 patients in critical condition and 360 COVID-19-related deaths. Over 8,000 COVID-19 fatalities were reported in March alone, accounting for about half of the total deaths reported since the pandemic began.
Threat of post-coronavirus symptoms
As the cumulative number of infections here has reached over 13 million, an increasing number of people are suffering symptoms even after recovering from the disease, a condition known as long COVID.
According to data from the Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service, among 21,615 COVID-19 patients who had recovered, 4,139, or 19 percent, have visited a hospital due to post-coronavirus symptoms.
The most frequent symptoms experienced among them were fatigue, breathing difficulties, forgetfulness and sleeping disorder. Experts warned that the number of long COVID patients will surge in the coming months and called on the government to analyze data on the long-term aftereffects of the disease, based on which it should draw up treatment plans.
Against this backdrop, the National Institute of Health said Thursday it would conduct a survey among 1,000 former COVID-19 patients aged under 60, who do not have underlying health conditions, and announce the results within the latter half of this year.
|A worker at a coffee shop in downtown Seoul arranges reusable mugs, Thursday. Yonhap|
Meanwhile, starting Friday, the government has reinstated a ban on the use of disposable items such as plastic cups and cutlery to sit-in customers at coffee shops and restaurants, after the rule had been suspended temporarily following the start of the pandemic in early 2020.
Despite the presidential committee's calls that the ban should be delayed to minimize the burden on small business owners, the Ministry of Environment has decided to enforce the measure, as part of its efforts to reduce plastic waste.
However, considering the struggles of business owners amid the pandemic, the ministry said violators will not face fines until the virus situation is stabilized.