South Korea’s plan for the “new normal” shows that social distancing is here to stay

Living with the reality of Covid-19.
Living with the reality of Covid-19.
Image: Reuters/Heo Ran
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

South Korea is offering a glimpse of what the “new normal” under coronavirus will look like, after the first wave of infections is brought under control but before a vaccine is developed. The country even has a name for it: “everyday life quarantine.”

A set of detailed guidelines unveiled today by health authorities lays out instructions for how people can resume some degree of economic and social activity while minimizing the risk of a second wave of infections. The guidelines cover almost every aspect of daily life one can think of: meals out at restaurants, business meetings, visits to the library, shopping trips, theater outings, even visits to nightlife spots.

South Korea has done remarkably well in controlling the disease and flattening the curve through a combination of widespread testing, aggressive contact tracing, travel restrictions, and quarantine and social distancing measures. It managed to hold a national election earlier this month—the first in the world to do amid the pandemic—and achieved a historic turnout rate even with stringent health rules.

The country currently has 10,708 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. No deaths from Covid-19 were reported today, following multiple days of single-digit case growth this week.

The new guidelines are not legally binding, and only serve as recommendations. Some of the suggestions may already be familiar to many people elsewhere: Wear a mask when taking public transportation, and stay home if you show symptoms of Covid-19, or if you’ve travelled abroad in the past 14 days, for example. Other suggestions hint at subtle ways in we will have to completely re-think our social interactions: Try to keep a distance of 2 meters (6.5 feet) when out and about, including when meeting other people.

The ritual of eating out will be different, too. The guidelines recommend that people minimize time spent in restaurants and cafes, sit at least 1 meter from other patrons, and sit in a row or in a zig-zag to avoid directly facing each other.

Any kind of establishment, be it a business, school, or community group, is encouraged to designate a quarantine manager, whose responsibility it is to set up hygiene measures, co-operate with health authorities, and monitor members’ health conditions. Mass-gathering events should be limited.

As for sporting events, fans going to see live games at stadiums are asked to avoid cheering too loudly (because of the risk of spraying saliva) and touching other people, like hugging and giving high-fives. The country’s pro baseball league is preparing to resume on May 5, with stringent rules including a ban on spitting. Even autograph sessions are discouraged. At karaoke bars, patrons are encouraged to use microphone covers, and keep the mic to themselves as much as possible.