March 21, 2020 / 1:30 AM / 19 days ago

South Korea advises facilities suspension, experts warn of 'long battle' against coronavirus

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea on Saturday advised its public to close facilities and forgo socialising for 15 days, keeping to its policy of voluntary social distancing but warning of consequences if the rules are not followed to slow the coronavirus outbreak.

FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians wearing masks are seen behind South Korean soldiers doing quarantine works, following the rise in confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Daegu, South Korea, March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The country reported 147 new coronavirus infections on Saturday, jumping from the previous day’s 87, and experts noted the need to prepare for a “long battle” as concerns of imported cases and new outbreaks around small clusters persisted.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said in a televised address the government strongly recommended religious, indoor sports and entertainment facilities such as nightclubs suspend operations, and people avoid socialising and travel for the next 15 days.

If facilities do not conform to rules such as mandatory mask wearing for all users, at least 1 meter (3.3 ft) distance between everyone and listing the names and phone numbers of all entrants while operating, the government will order gatherings to disperse.

“In the event of failure to comply with the administrative order, we will actively take all possible measures stipulated by law, including the facilities’ shutdown and indemnity claims,” Chung said.

Saturday’s cases bring the country’s total to 8,799. The number of deaths associated with the virus rose to 104.

LONG BATTLE AHEAD

The tally marked the 10th day in a row the country has posted new infections in the mid-100s or below, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). South Korea has seen a downward trend in new cases from the peak of 909 cases reported on Feb. 29.

Out of 147 new cases, 109 were from South Korea’s fourth-largest city, Daegu, and adjoining North Gyeongsang Province, where 86% of all South Korean cases have been. More than 165 cases in the region were spread in and from hospitals for the elderly, KCDC data showed.

But other regions also saw increases, including 15 new cases in Seoul and six detected in people entering the country from abroad.

“You may feel that the current situation has improved a lot compared to the past, but... we continue to see group infection, inflows from foreign countries, mass outbreaks at workplaces,” Yoon Tae-ho, director general for public health policy, said at a briefing.

Yoon cited experts as saying that more arrangements in structural social distancing and medical systems are needed to “prepare for a long battle” as coronavirus spreads globally, but said South Korea has not considered the extreme forms of travel restrictions that other countries have taken.

President Moon Jae-in and government officials from vice minister and up will return 30% of their paychecks for four months to support those hit by coronavirus, the Prime Minister’s office said.

Prime Minister Chung said earlier on Saturday that up to 3.8 trillion won ($3.03 billion) in disaster management funds may be used for small businesses and disadvantaged people specifically for coronavirus-related difficulties.

Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Ed Osmond

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