South Korea delays easing social distancing amid sign of another wave

Workers wearing traditional attire walk on a cold winter day, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic during the daily re-enactment of the changing of the Royal Guards at Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul, South Korea, January 28, 2021. REUTERS/Heo Ran

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea has delayed until Sunday any easing of social distancing measures because outbreaks involving mission schools are threatening to undermine efforts to keep new infections under control ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays.

The number of cases linked to Christian schools nationwide grew further on Friday, reaching 344 infections in total in seven facilities.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Friday that the government would not carelessly reduce social distancing rules, citing experts who view the recent surge in cases as a sign of another massive wave of infections.

“We want to be cautious as making a wrong judgment ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays could end up tumbling the anti-virus measures we have been building up in an instant,” Chung told a government meeting.

South Korea’s social distancing policy has become a whack-a-mole game, a repetition of tightening and easing of the curfews and restrictions, said Kim Woo-joo, a professor of infectious diseases at Korea University Guro Hospital in Seoul.

“The nation is reeling with false hope of a return to normal in February since the vaccination starts then, but the eradication is impossible with so many locally transmitted cases,” Kim said.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 469 new coronavirus cases as of midnight on Thursday, bringing the national tally to 77,395 cases and 1,399 deaths.

The government on Thursday unveiled a plan to inoculate 10 million high-risk people by July, starting with key groups in February.

Chung has said that Asia’s fourth largest economy would hopefully have achieved herd immunity by November and a return to normal life.

Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Michael Perry