By Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol is at odds with a decision by the outgoing government to lift nearly all coronavirus curbs this week, vowing to reconsider a plan to exempt all patients from quarantine requirements from May.
In a major step this week towards a return to normal life, the government of President Moon Jae-in lifted almost all its social distancing curbs, such as midnight curfew for restaurants and a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.
But the transition team for Yoon, who takes office on May 10, called the move premature as daily numbers of new infections hover around 100,000, with hundreds of critically ill patients and deaths.
“It is not wise to lift all of those measures as if COVID-19 does not exist,” the spokeswoman for Yoon’s transition team, Shin Yong-hyeon, told a briefing.
“The government’s decision to completely lift the quarantine mandate at the end of May is very premature. The next government would lift that requirement when we see it possible after sufficient reviews.”
The health ministry declined to comment on the remarks.
Authorities plan to abolish the quarantine rule, starting from late May, followed in two weeks by a review of whether to drop a requirement for outdoor wearing of masks.
Requirements for mask-wearing and seven days of quarantine for international arrivals and those testing positive remain, as do those for testing and vaccination.
Yoon promised during his election campaign to lift curbs that hamper small businesses and the self-employed, but his team said any return to normalcy should bring measures to protect high-risk and vulnerable people.
This week has seen more than 800 serious infections and 100 deaths, with nearly 600,000 people treating themselves at home, following a sharp decline in daily figures since the Omicron wave peaked in mid-March with about 620,000 infections.
Wednesday’s cases stood at 90,867, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said, with 846 of them critical, while there were 147 deaths.
The national tally of infections rose to 16,674,045, with 21,667 deaths.
Nearly 88% of the population of 52 million is fully vaccinated, with 64% receiving a booster dose, the agency said.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)