Return to normalcy begins Monday, key restrictions lifted
“With Corona” starts Monday, with 10 to 12 people allowed to gather socially and most businesses permitted to operate 24 hours a day.
The Central Disaster Management Headquarters unveiled the final plan for a phased return to normalcy — much like the “living with Covid” measures being implemented in other countries — on Friday, with slight changes from Monday’s blueprint.
The four-tiers of social distancing measures, which were applied in each region based on their number of infections, will be applied uniformly nationwide.
Under the first stage of the three-phase “With Corona” strategy beginning Nov. 1, limits on business hours will be removed for most facilities. Clubs and bars that allow dancing will be required to close at midnight, and even that will be lifted in the second phase set to begin around mid-December. Curfew on hagwon (cramschool) will be lifted from Nov. 22, after the Korean CSAT (College Scholastic Ability Test).
Social gatherings will be allowed for up to 10 people in the greater Seoul area — Seoul, Gyeonggi and Incheon — and up to 12 people in other regions, regardless of vaccination status. The government earlier said it would allow up to 10 people to gather nationwide. In restaurants and cafes, unvaccinated people will be limited to gathering of four.
Facilities where the virus could spread more easily will require a “vaccine pass,” a Covid health pass system similar to those used overseas, for entry. This includes noraebang (singing rooms), bathhouses, indoor sports facilities, clubs and bars that allow dancing, casinos, nursing homes and senior citizen communities.
Vaccine passes can be a digital vaccine certificate from the COOV mobile application, a paper certificate or a sticker from local community service centers on ID cards. To get into those places, an unvaccinated person must present a negative PCR test result from that previous two days.
Those 18 and under, people fully recovered from Covid-19 and individuals who cannot get a vaccine for medical reasons won’t be required to present a vaccine pass or a negative result.
As the passport system has met some resistance, the government will not implement the rule until Nov. 7, or until Nov. 14 for indoor sports facilities such as gyms and table tennis courts.
Mass events will be limited to 100 people if they include unvaccinated people. If everyone has a vaccine pass or a recent negative test, the cap will be eased to 499 people.
The government also lowered the threshold for the "emergency plan" to be initiated when there is a risk of the medical system collapse, from 80 percent to 75 percent ICU and hospital bed utilization.
In line with the government’s “With Corona” scheme, the Ministry of Education also announced plans for a phased return to normalcy for schools, in a bid to have classes operating as they had before the pandemic by next year’s spring semester.
Education Minister Yoo Eun-hye announced new measures Friday to allow all kindergarten to high school students to fully attend schools from Nov. 22, and universities to gradually expand face-to-face lectures from Nov. 1.
Currently, all students are attending classes in person in areas at Level 3 and below in the four-tier distancing scheme. Non-capital regions are at Level 3 or below.
Schools in regions under Level 4 restrictions — Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi — are allowed to offer in-person teaching with an attendance cap of one-half for third to sixth graders; two-thirds for middle schoolers; and 50 to 100 percent for 10th and 11th graders.
The attendance rate in non-capital regions was 94.4 percent and in the Seoul metropolitan area 69.1 percent as of Tuesday.
Under the new measures, student capacity based on the social distancing levels will disappear, and all regions will be able to have full in-person classes from Nov. 22 after the Korean CSAT ends. If the number of virus cases increase dramatically, schools will be able to reduce the cap to three-fourths for third to sixth graders and two-thirds for middle to high schoolers.
With classes back to normal, schools are set to expand outdoor physical activities, group discussion classes and small-scale hands-on activities.
From the spring semester next year, full in-person classes will be held in all schools across the country. All extracurricular activities, afterschool classes and overnight field trips will be allowed.
Universities in Korea will resume in-person classes gradually in line with the country’s adoption of “With Corona” strategies from Nov. 1.
The current antivirus measures in universities will be kept during the fall semester. They allow small classes, laboratory courses and other kinds of instruction requiring hands-on teaching to operate in-person.
The Education Ministry designated the winter semester as a pilot period for the transition into face-to-face classes, advising in-person classes as much as possible and a full resumption of in-person teaching by s spring semester.
With Korea set to ease virus restrictions from next week, daily Covid-19 cases remained above 2,000 for a second day on Friday.
The country reported 2,124 new Covid-19 cases on Friday, of which all but 30 were locally transmitted, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The accumulative caseload now stands at 360,536.
Health authorities were put on alert as a total of 121 people were found infected in just two days at a psychiatric ward in a hospital in Changwon, South Gyeongsang — most were breakthrough cases.
According to Changwon City on Friday, three people — one hospital workers and two patients who were in contact with the employee — first tested positive on Thursday.
As of 11 a.m. Friday, 118 more infections were added through additional virus tests, raising the total infections to 121.
Of the reported cases, 88.5 percent, or 107 people were breakthrough infections, or a fully vaccinated person catching the virus, as they completed their vaccinations between May and June, city officials said.
The hospital has been put under cohort isolation since Thursday. A total of 560 tests were conducted, with 250 testing negative. The rest are awaiting results.
BY SEO JI-EUN [email@example.com]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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