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Virus outbreak keeps Koreans indoors

Experts say put off plans, be less social to avoid virus

Haeundae, a usually crowded beach in Busan, appears empty on Saturday morning. (Yonhap)
Haeundae, a usually crowded beach in Busan, appears empty on Saturday morning. (Yonhap)

South Korea’s virus tally has skyrocketed from double to quadruple digits in a matter of a week, with the number of infected hovering well above 3,000 as of Saturday afternoon. As fears grip the country, streets are empty with more Koreans choosing to stay home, and health officials and experts are campaigning to discourage the public from going outside.

Incheon International Airport said Saturday its passenger volume fell to levels not seen since August 2012, when Typhoon Bolaven caused mass flight cancellations.

According to the airport, the number of passengers plummeted to 71,666 on Thursday, which is only about a third of the figure from the same time last year.

Weekend rallies that have become a regular affair in Seoul have been called off as well, at least for the time being.

A Seoul court on Friday dismissed an anti-Moon organization’s request to lift the police ban on rallies in squares around the city. The court’s decision upheld the no-rally directive issued by the police to mitigate spread of the illness.

Churches are also taking unusual measures, closing services in light of the emergency.

The Catholic Church in Korea announced Wednesday for the first time in its 236-year history, Mass would be suspended in all parishes across the country until the second week of March.

Other churches followed suit. Korea’s biggest protestant church, the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Yeouido, central Seoul, which boasts some 560,000 followers said Friday it was halting Sunday services for the next two weeks.

Experts continue to advocate staying put as the best defense against virus transmission.

In a statement released Saturday, the Korean Society of Epidemiology said the times called for an “intensive, nationwide efforts” to minimize human-to-human contact, warning that the COVID-19 was edging closer to becoming a pandemic.

The statement pointed out that the disease, which is especially detrimental to elderly and those with underlying conditions, was more infectious in its early stages when symptoms are not recognizable.

“To reduce the public health costs with limited medical resources, everyone has to step in and contribute to the outbreak control by avoiding meetings and gatherings,” it said.

The Korean Medical Association likewise advised “social distancing” in a statement issued Friday evening.

“Cancel all plans, and refrain from non-essential outings as much as possible,” the doctors’ group said.

Addressing a press briefing Saturday morning, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun urged “all of Korea” to eschew crowded events, including those held outdoors.

By Kim Arin (