South Korea on alert over holidays despite slight drop in COVID-19 cases

South Korea on alert over holidays despite slight drop in COVID-19 cases

People in traditional Korean hanbok dresses wear face masks
People in traditional Korean hanbok dresses wear face masks as they visit Gyeongbokgung palace in Seoul on Feb 3, 2020. (File photo: AFP/Jung Yeon-je)

SEOUL: South Korea appealed on Tuesday (Sep 29) for strict social distancing despite a slight fall in the number of its new coronavirus cases, with millions of people set to travel for a major holiday.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 39 new infections as of Monday midnight, which marks a fifth day of double-digit rises. It brought South Korea's total infections to 23,699, with 407 deaths.

The numbers came a day after the daily tally fell to its lowest since new clusters emerged from a church and a big political rally last month, which have resulted in more than 1,800 infections.

Health authorities pleaded for people to stay home and refrain from gatherings ahead of the Korean thanksgiving holiday of Chuseok, which begins on Wednesday, although millions are still expected to travel across the country.

READ: Graves, trains and traditional pancakes – How COVID-19 is changing Chuseok, one of South Korea’s biggest holidays

"We're in a disaster situation of infectious disease that we could face once a century. Even if it's a bit uncomfortable and doesn't feel like Chuseok, we urge you to follow anti-virus measures at any cost," KDCA official Kwon Jun-wook told a briefing.

Kwon said the declining trend in cases was a result of social distancing over recent weeks and the country should not repeat the mistakes that brought surges in cases after two previous holidays.

Vice Health Minister Kang Do-tae also raised the danger of the Chuseok holiday sparking another surge of infections.

"Keeping distancing rules and wearing masks is the safest way to protect you, your family and society," Kang said.

The government eased some social distancing rules after the rate of infections slowed this month but imposed special measures for the holiday, including banning dining at motorway rest areas and nursing home visits and requiring temperature checks at all stations.

Kang also warned of strict punishment against anyone who takes part in a political rally. Authorities have said they have banned some 137 demonstrations.

Polls have shown mixed forecasts about travel.

More than 78 per cent of Koreans said they planned to stay at home for the holiday in a survey conducted over the weekend by the Korea Society Opinion Institute.

But airport authorities said on Sunday the number of people taking domestic flights would drop by 25 per cent compared with last year.

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Source: Reuters/dv/ad