South Korea again reports no new local COVID-19 infections as it eases social distancing rules

SEOUL, May 5 (UPI) — South Korean health officials reported no new local transmissions of COVID-19 for the second day in a row on Tuesday as the country prepares to ease social distancing rules and reopen schools and public facilities.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported three additional imported cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of infections to 10,804. The new patients represented the sixth day in a row of single-digit increases and marked the lowest daily total since February 18, when an outbreak began in the southeastern city of Daegu.

In response to the steadily decreasing number of new patients, South Korea is loosening its social distancing policies and will be implementing a phase of what it calls “everyday life quarantine” on Wednesday.

The measures provide hygiene and disease prevention guidelines for 31 different locations and situations as the country begins to reopen venues such as recreational facilities, nightclubs, places of worship and museums.

Vice health minister Kim Gang-lip said Tuesday that the new measures would provide an economic and social boost but did not represent a full return to normal.

“Transitioning into everyday social distancing measures does not mean we will be going back to pre-COVID-19 days,” Kim said at a press briefing. “However, we are making new norms and a new culture. It is about guaranteeing social and economic activities while individuals and society as a whole become responsible agents of this infection and quarantine.”

South Korea’s professional baseball league, the Korean Baseball Organization, is scheduled to kick off its regular season on Tuesday evening at stadiums without fans in attendance.

The government announced on Monday that schools would start reopening next week, with high school seniors returning to class on May 13 and other grades resuming in a phased process throughout the rest of the month.

Online classes began on April 9 after a five-week postponement from the scheduled start of the semester due to the coronavirus outbreak.

South Korea will also begin reducing the number of hospitals and beds specifically designated for treating COVID-19 patients, Kim said on Tuesday. The country currently has 5,533 secured beds, with 4,649 immediately available.

Health officials will reduce the number of COVID-19 beds by 1,725 starting on Wednesday and will look to further reduce capacity in coming weeks if the trend of limited new cases continues, Kim said.

South Korea was the first country after China to see widespread local transmission of the coronavirus after its February outbreak, but officials managed to dramatically flatten the curve of new infections through early and aggressive testing and tracing.

The country reported two new deaths on Tuesday, bringing the nationwide total to 254, the KCDC reported.

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