Testing the waters: South Korea's waterparks open under new anti-virus measures

YONGIN, South Korea (Reuters) - Only a handful of rubber floats tumbled down the giant slide at South Korea’s largest waterpark on Friday, its first day back in business since the coronavirus pandemic hit.

More visitors are expected to follow as summer gets under way, but new social distancing rules will make cooling off at Caribbean Bay in Yongin, southeast of Seoul, more complicated.

Under government guidelines announced for South Korea’s waterparks on Wednesday, people will have to maintain distance from each other in the pools as well as locker rooms and other facilities.

The operators of Caribbean Bay, Samsung C&T, are implementing additional restrictions: Visitors must first fill out an online form to list any potential symptoms, and then have their temperatures checked before being allowed in.

South Korea blunted an initial surge in infections in February and March, but has continued to see a small but steady number of new cases, especially from crowded spots like nightclubs and churches.

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Pool water itself is not believed to be a major risk for spreading the coronavirus, but the park says it has sought to reduce the risks posed by people gathering in close proximity to each other.

Officials said they carry out disinfection operations every hour. Everyone is asked to wear protective face masks when not in the water and the park provides plastic bags to keep masks dry when not in use.

“I feel like it’s safe to enjoy, so I came,” said Kim Seung-min, a business owner who said he dropped everything to come on the first day.

Only one ride was operating at Caribbean Bay on Friday, but for 9-year-old Lee Ji-woo, this was more than enough after weeks of virus-related closures and self-isolation.

“It was so boring and stuffy studying and watching TV at home so it’s really exciting to be outside,” she said.

Additional reporting by Sangmi Cha and Daewoung Kim; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Raissa Kasolowksy