South Korea to extend intensive social distancing as coronavirus cases persist

FILE PHOTO: A couple wearing masks to protect against contracting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) walk along a street in Seoul, South Korea, April 3, 2020. REUTERS/Heo Ran

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea said on Saturday it will have to extend its intensive social distancing campaign scheduled to end on Monday as concerns about imported coronavirus cases and new outbreaks in small clusters persist.

The country has largely managed to bring under control Asia’s largest epidemic outside China with around 100 or fewer new daily cases. But smaller outbreaks in churches, hospitals and nursing homes, as well as infections among travelers, continue to emerge.

This week, the government has been gauging whether it should extend a 15-day intensive social distancing policy it implemented on March 21, under which high-risk facilities were urged to be closed and religious, sports and entertainment gatherings were banned.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the situation is still “grave”, citing a recent spike in imported cases and clusters in the greater Seoul area which he said also prompted the government to cancel the re-opening of schools next week.

“We’re in a situation where we have to maintain the intensive social distancing for some time,” he told a meeting with government officials.

“Domestic transmissions are being managed within our system and unaccountable infections have sharply subsided … But we cannot release the tension for now.”

Chung did not say how long the measures would be kept in place for.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 94 new cases on Saturday, taking the national tally to 10,156. The death toll rose by three to 177, while more than 300 recovered from the virus for a total of 6,325.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Lincoln Feast.

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