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Welfare, Health & Security News

  • [COVID-19] Steady Return To Pre-Pandemic Life (Starting Nov. 1)

  • Welfare, Health & Security News SMG 25493

    Phased Return to Normalcy Plan

    1. Reorganized social distancing

    ◈ Gradual easing/lifting of COVID-19 restrictions for fully vaccinated people

    ○ Maintain COVID-19 protocols (e.g. masks) following the order of (1) facilities closely related to people’s livelihoods → (2) large-scale events → (3) private gatherings.
    ○ Ease COVID-19 protocols for facilities and gatherings comprising vaccinated people as much as possible

    Basic direction

    • (Direction) Shifting the focus from the universal imposition of restrictions to suppress the spread of COVID-19 → to increasing the vaccination rate to suppress the number of critically ill patients and deaths, and on preventing the spread within the unvaccinated population and the most vulnerable
    • (Gradual relaxation) Gradually ease COVID-19 protocols in three phases by comprehensively evaluating the status of various factors, including vaccination rate, hospital bed occupancy rate, number of critically ill patients and deaths, number of new confirmed cases, etc.
    • (Centering on vaccinated people) Ease COVID-19 protocols as much as possible for facilities used only by fully vaccinated people, etc.*
      • * Including fully vaccinated people, unvaccinated people with a negative PCR test result, minors aged 18 and under, people who have fully recovered from COVID-19 infection, and people who are unable to get vaccinated due to special reasons.
      • – Vaccination certificate/negative test result checking system focusing on facilities that pose a high risk of spread, and facilities that require special protection for high-risk groups such as the elderly (e.g. convalescent hospitals)
      • (Vaccination and negative test result certificates) Based on the concept of the so-called “vaccine pass” system, which allows access to facilities only to fully vaccinated people and people with a negative PCR test result to ensure safety of facility users and to protect unvaccinated people.
      • – At the discretion of each facility whether to restrict access to certain spaces/sessions to unvaccinated people. However, COVID-19 protocols (e.g. no eating inside, capacity limit) applied if unvaccinated people are also allowed inside the facility.
      • * Lift restrictions on no eating inside and shouting/singing (e.g. choirs) that cannot be performed while wearing a face mask in phase 2.
    • (Practical measures) Increase participation of citizens, organizations and associations, and expand local governments’ autonomy. Strengthen practical disease control and prevention measures for daily life based on the principles of autonomy and responsibility.
    • (Contingency plan) If the medical system becomes overwhelmed to a critical level due to factors such as a sudden surge of critically ill patients and deaths, temporarily put the normalcy plan on hold, and activate a contingency plan to stabilize the spread of COVID-19.

    Direction of reorganization for each field

    1) Phased easing

    Relax COVID-19 protocols gradually through a three-phase plan

    • (Direction) Considering negative impacts on people’s livelihoods and economy, and infection risks, lift restrictions for facilities closely related to people’s livelihoods (multi-use facilities) first, → then followed by large scale events, → and private gatherings.
    • (Transition time) Implement the plan at intervals of four weeks and two weeks* starting November 1.
      • * Transition period for the new scheme (four weeks) and an evaluation period (two weeks; can be adjusted as needed).
    • (Transition criteria) Decide whether to progress to the next phase after judging whether vaccination rate, medical system’s capacity, number of critically ill patients and deaths, and scale of new infection trends are stable.
      • * Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency regularly assesses and updates risk levels.
    • (Procedure) Advised by the Return to Normalcy Support Committee, and then finally decided by the Central Disease Control Headquarters.
    Phased easing
      Phase 1 Phase 2 Phase 3
    Direction Ease restrictions on facilities closely related to people’s livelihoods Permit large-scale events Lift restrictions on private gatherings
    Transition criteria ① Vaccination rate (first dose: 70%; second dose: 80%)
    ② ICU and hospital bed availability
    ③ Number of new critically ill patients/deaths for the week
    ④ Scale of new infection trends, basic reproduction number, etc.
    ※ The Infection Medical Subcommittee will discuss the detailed indicators later.

    Maintain COVID-19 protocols while dismissing the social distancing scheme

    • (Dismiss the existing scheme) Dismiss the graded, region-based social distancing scheme, and implement one set of rules for the entire country (phase 1) → Continue to ease COVID-19 protocols and maintain only basic disease control and prevention measures (phase 3)

    2) Multi-use facilities

    Basic direction of a new social distancing scheme for multi-use facilities

    Basic direction of a new social distancing scheme for multi-use facilities
    Risk level Facility type Major direction Phase 1 Phase 2 Phase 3
    High-risk facilities Night entertainment facilities, etc. Implementation of a vaccination certificate/negative test result checking system Until 12 AM No restrictions
    Karaoke rooms, indoor gyms, baths/saunas, etc. Open 24 hours
    Lift restrictions on treadmill speeds, shower facilities, capacity limit (phase 1)
    → Allow eating inside (phase 2)
    Restaurants, cafes Restrict the number of unvaccinated people (four people) Open 24 hours
    Low-risk facilities Movie theaters, study cafes, Internet cafes, etc.
    All facilities
    Ease COVID-19 protocols Open 24 hours Allow eating inside
    Incentives for vaccinated people Lift restrictions such as capacity limit and distanced seating
    (Movie theaters/indoor sports) Lift restrictions on eating (trial run)

    Lift restrictions on operating hours entirely for facilities closely related to people’s livelihoods as top priority

    • (Direction) Considering the negative effects of the restrictions on facilities closely related to people’s livelihoods, lift restrictions on operating hours for all businesses in phase 1, except for night entertainment facilities. Lift restrictions on night entertainment facilities gradually over two phases.
      • – (Phase 1) Lift restrictions on operating hours for all businesses except for night entertainment facilities. Relax the restrictions on night entertainment businesses to 12 AM.* Lift restrictions on private academies** after the College Scholastic Ability Test (Nov. 22).
      • – (Phase 2) Lift restrictions on operating hours for night entertainment facilities.
    Lift restrictions on operating hours for night entertainment facilities.
    Classification of multi-use facilities Current scheme New scheme (draft)
    Seoul metropolitan area (SMA) Non-SMA
    Private academies,* movie theaters, performance venues, study rooms, Internet cafes, etc. (Group 3) · Limited to 10 PM/12 AM · No restrictions · Lift hour restrictions
    · No specific measures
    Restaurants, cafes (Group 2) · 10 PM · 12 AM · Lift hour restrictions
    · Limit the number of unvaccinated users
    Karaoke rooms, indoor gyms, baths/saunas, etc. (Group 2) · 10 PM · 10 PM · Implement a vaccination certificate/negative test result checking system
    · Lift hour restrictions
    Night entertainment facilities, colatecs (social dance clubs), dance halls, etc. (Group 1) · No gatherings allowed · 10 PM · Implement a vaccination certificate/negative test result checking system and ease restrictions to 12 AM (Phase 1) → Lift hour restrictions (Phase 2)

    * Lift hour restrictions on private academies after the College Scholastic Ability Test (Nov. 22–)

    Implement a vaccination certificate/negative test result checking system immediately for some of high-risk facilities. Introduce vaccination incentives for other facilities.

    • (High-risk facilities) Introduce and implement a vaccination certificate/negative test result checking system in some multi-use facilities with high infection risks for fully vaccinated people, etc.*
      • * Fully vaccinated people + Unvaccinated people (① with a negative PCR test result, ② minors aged 18 and under, or ③ who are unable to get vaccinated for special reasons)
      • – (Target facilities) Night entertainment facilities, karaoke rooms, indoor gyms, baths/saunas, horse/bicycle/boat racing facilities, casinos, etc. (applicable to 130,000 out of 2.09 million multi-use facilities)
      • – (Relaxed protocols) With the introduction of a vaccination certificate/negative test result checking system: (Phase 1) Lift hour restrictions (until 10 PM) and capacity limit (1 person per 8 m2) → (Phase 2) Lift restrictions on no eating insideban on indoor food consumption.
      • – (Period) Introduce in phase 1 (November) → Review whether to end the scheme after two to three months (only if it is safe to do so).
      • * Grace period of 1 week to increase on-site compliance, and publicize the new scheme further. However, allow two weeks for indoor gyms considering subscriptions for unvaccinated users.
    • (Restaurants/cafes) Although wearing masks is limited, it is difficult to completely rule out unvaccinated users, so restrict the numbers through the maximum number of people allowed for private gatherings, and the maximum permitted number of unvaccinated customers.
    • (Other facilities*) Ease COVID-19 protocols other than basic disease control and prevention measures to a minimum level. Provide incentives for those facilities that only allow fully vaccinated people (Lifted restrictions on capacity limit and distanced seating in phase 1 → Allow eating inside in phase 2)
      • * All multi-use facilities including movie theaters, performance venues, sports viewing facilities (excluding private academies and study rooms)
      • – (Pilot operation) In phase 1, allow eating in movie theaters (indoor facility) and outdoor sports viewing facilities (outdoor facility) that only allow fully vaccinated people in, and assess the impact.

    Standardize social distancing rules for different levels and facilities, and gradually lift COVID-19 protocols

    • (Capacity limit) Standardize the rules on capacity limit for similar facilities in order to improve on-site acceptance (Phase 1: one person per 4 m2, distanced seating, and up to 50% of total capacity)
    • (Eating restrictions) Currently imposed on most facilities including study rooms, indoor gyms and trains. However, since it is a very high-risk behavior that entails taking masks off, consider relaxing the ban only after phase 2.
      • * Operate a pilot run that allows eating only to fully vaccinated users in low-risk facilities, such as movie theaters (indoor) and outdoor sports viewing facilities (outdoor), and then evaluate the outcome.
    • (Simplification of rules) Simplify the graded, facility-based COVID-19 protocols into basic facility-based restrictions. Lift various restrictions except for essential restrictions.
      • * (Example) Lift the one-hour use restriction (strongly recommended) in restaurants and cafes

    3) Events and meetings

    • (Direction of new scheme) Allow large-scale events and meetings for fully vaccinated people first
    • (Major details) Allow events with less than 100 attendees regardless of vaccination. However make necessary preparations to allow only fully vaccinated people* for large-scale events with 100 or more attendees.
      • * Including fully vaccinated people, unvaccinated people with a negative PCR test result, minors aged 18 and under, and people who are unable to get vaccinated due to special reasons.
      • – (Phase 1) Allow events and meetings with less than 100 attendees. However, require large-scale events and meetings with 100 or more attendees to allow less than 500 fully vaccinated people only.
        • * In Phase 1, allow events with 500 or more attendees such as irregular concert halls, sports contest, and festivals on a trial basis through an approval from the ministry and office concerned (Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Ministry of the Interior and Safety, and local governments), and conduct follow-up assessments.
      • – (Phase 2) Allow events without capacity limit if they are attended by fully vaccinated people only. Standardize the complex restrictions and requirements which differ by location and purpose into one set of rules.
      • – (Phase 3) Review whether to lift event-related restrictions for fully vaccinated people (100 people or more), or to relax the restrictions gradually by increasing the maximum permitted number incrementally.
    Allow large-scale events and meetings for fully vaccinated people first
      Present Phase 1 Phase 2 Phase 3
    Fully vaccinated people +
    Unvaccinated people
    (Level 4) No events allowed
    (Level 3) Events with less than 50 attendees only
    Events with less than 100 attendees only Lift restrictions capacity limit, and enforce
    basic disease control and prevention measures
    ※ Individual measures possible for weddings and expos  
    Only fully vaccinated people, people with negative PCR test result
    allowed
    Events with less than 500 attendees only
    (pilot run for irregular concerts halls with 500 or more attendees)
    Without restrictions on capacity limit,
    allow large-scale events
    ※ Lift various restrictions such as distanced seating, capacity limit, no eating, etc.

    4) Private gatherings

    • (Direction of new scheme) Maintain an appropriate level of restrictions in consideration of high demands for end-of-the-year and New Year’s events, and lift restrictions afterwards.
      • * Lift restrictions gradually since a high number of end-of-the-year and New Year’s events undermines the infection control efforts while having only limited ripple effects on people’s livelihoods and economy compared to the restrictions on facilities closely related to people’s livelihoods and economy and events.
    • (Major details) Allow up to 10 people in SMA, and up to 12 people in non-SMA. Lift restrictions entirely in phase 3.
      • – Limit access to multi-use facilities to unvaccinated people. However, maintain restrictions on unvaccinated people only in facilities where it is difficult to implement a vaccination certificate/negative test result checking system such as restaurants and cafes (four people).
    Maintain an appropriate level of restrictions in consideration of high demands for end-of-the-year and New Year’s events, and lift restrictions afterwards.
    Phase 1 Phase 2 Phase 3
    10 people in SMA and 12 in non-SMA
    (A group can consist of vaccinated people and unvaccinated people. However, up to four unvaccinated people are allowed inside restaurants and cafes)
    Lift restrictions on private gatherings

    5) Vulnerable facilities

    • (Convalescent hospitals, etc.) Allow only fully vaccinated people to visit patients who are highly likely to die if they are infected with COVID-19, or use convalescent hospitals/facilities, leisure and living facilities for the elderly and people with disabilities.*
      • – ① Restrict visiting hours, and allow access to only fully vaccinated people; ② Require mandatory PCR tests for unvaccinated workers and nursing staff; ③ Conduct preemptive tests on new patients (PCR tests)
      • * Center for senior citizens, welfare centers for the elderly, protective facilities for dementia patients, and living facilities for people with severe disabilities
    • (Booster shots) Actively administer additional vaccines (booster shots) for high-risk groups and the elderly

    6) Religious activities and other day-to-day activities

    • (Religious facilities) Allow 50% of the pre-pandemic levels for religious activities that include unvaccinated people. Lift restrictions on the capacity limit the maximum permitted number for religious activities participated only by vaccinated people (Phase 1).
      • – For religious activities participated only by vaccinated people, allow small gatherings while strengthening infection control within the scope of private gatherings (limited to religious facilities, and food consumption and praying out loud are not allowed).
    • (Schools, workplaces, military bases, etc.) Prepare/execute plans to help people in various fields, such as students, workers, soldiers, social welfare facilities and government offices safely resume their day-to-day activities.
      • – Normalize educational activities, provide social welfare services to socially disadvantaged groups, promote the use of such services, etc.

    7) Maintain basic disease control and prevention measures, and strengthen daily COVID-19 protocols

    • (Mandatory rules) Wear masks indoors (partially mandatory for outdoor spaces), and only major protocols mandatory for speedy/efficient contact tracing (e.g. electronic visitors’ log, “Safety Call” service, vaccination certificate/negative test result checking system)
    • ◉ (Mandatory mask wearing) Maintain the current rules on mask wearing in phase 1 in order to prevent the public from lowering their guard against COVID-19 infections. Review whether to ease the mask wearing rules for outdoor spaces, or to adjust the scope of the rules in phase 2.
    • (COVID-19 protocols) Develop various day-to-day protocols measures based on scientific evidence, and inform the public of the relevant information. Strengthen public education, promotion, and campaigns.
      • * Develop guidelines and recommendations for daily activities including traveling, meeting people, exercising, hosting a wedding, installing partition screens, and ventilating indoor spaces.
    • (Autonomy and responsibility) Expand local governments’ authority to adjust COVID-19 protocols within their jurisdictions during the return to normalcy. Form and operate “return to normalcy” teams within local areas.
      • * Respect the local governments’ right to determine their own COVID-19 restrictions in major areas such as events and private gatherings.

    2. Implement a vaccination certificate/negative test result checking system

    ◈ For a safe transition to pre-pandemic life, utilize a vaccination certificate/negative test result checking system

    ○ Design the system meticulously to prevent discrimination against unvaccinated people, and implement it for a temporarily period

    Purpose of implementation

    • (Purpose) To help fully vaccinated people return to pre-pandemic life, and to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among unvaccinated people who have relatively high risks of catching the virus, and becoming critically ill or dying from the infection.
      • – Implement a vaccination certificate/negative test result checking system based on the concept of a “vaccine pass” only for a temporary period to allow access to multi-use facilities and events only to fully vaccinated people and other people with special conditions.

    Major details

    • (Target) Among fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people, allow exceptions based on risks and necessity for those with ① a negative PCR test result,* ② special conditions that do not allow them from getting vaccinated.**
      • * The negative test result is effective until the midnight of the day when it becomes 48 hours since the test result was released (the day when the test result expires).
      • ** Minors aged 18 and under, and people who are unable to complete their vaccination due to reasons such as severe side effects after the first dose.
    • (Applicable areas) (Phase 1) High-risk multi-use facilities* and vulnerable facilities,** (Phase 2) large-scale events/meetings with 100 attendees or more, review gradual lifting of the restrictions after Phase 2 (if the infection-related situation is under control)
      • – (Phase 1) Apply first to some of the multi-use facilities that have high risks, and facilities that are vulnerable against COVID-19 infection
      • · (High-risk facilities) Night entertainment facilities, karaoke rooms, baths/saunas, indoor gyms, horse/bicycle/boat racing facilities, casinos, etc. (applicable to 130,000 facilities among 2.09 million facilities)
        · (Vulnerable facilities) Facilities that are used by the elderly and vulnerable groups such as medical institutions (in-patient facilities), visits to convalescent hospitals, facilities for people with severe disabilities and facilities for dementia patients, centers for senior citizens, welfare centers for the elderly, cultural centers, etc.
    • (Phase 2) Apply to large-scale events and meetings with 100 or more attendees
      • * All events including weddings, expos, academic events, concerts, sports contests, festivals, rallies, etc.
      • Apply to large-scale events and meetings with 100 or more attendees
        Phase 1 Phase 2 & 3
        Apply to some of the multi-use facilities and vulnerable facilities Events and meetings attended by 100 or more attendees
        (lift restrictions gradually if the situation is under control)
    • (Lift restrictions) Evaluate indicators related to COVID-19 infection control such as cluster infection with the start of Phase 2. Lift restrictions gradually starting with low-risk facilities.
    • (Scope of exception) Determine the scope of exception for unvaccinated people by considering the level of risk that individual facility poses, and the necessity for restrictions in order to minimize discrimination against unvaccinated people.
      • – Consider various circumstances and cases such as people with a negative PCR test result, minors aged 18 and under, and people who are unable to get vaccinated due to special reasons (e.g. people who are not permitted to receive vaccines due to medical conditions).
      • – As for the scope of exception for large-scale events participated by minors, further discussions will be held with the Ministry of Education to develop a detailed plan.

    Permitted facility users according to vaccination certificate/negative test result checking system

    Permitted facility users according to vaccination certificate/negative test result checking system
    Facility Fully vaccinated people Unvaccinated people who fall in the scope of exception
    People with a negative PCR test result People with special medical conditions People aged 18 and under (i.e. minors)
    Night entertainment facilities O X X X
    Horse/bicycle/boat racing facilities and casinos O O X X
    Indoor gyms O O O O
    Karaoke rooms O O O O
    Baths/saunas O O O O
    Patient/resident visits O O X X
    Facilities for the elderly/people with disabilities O O X X

    * Allow access to patients/residents

    Action plan

    • (Method of issuance) Prioritize digital certificates, but also accept paper documents
      • – ① Digital certificates (COOV app, etc.), ② Paper certificates (paper certificates can be applied/issued via online and community health centers), ③ Vaccination stickers (attached to ID cards)
        • * Resident registration card, driver’s license, disability registration certificate, certificate of alien registration, and certificate of residence in South Korea
    • (Authentication method) Recommend checking the QR code,* however allow visual checks in inevitable situations
      • * It is relatively hard to forge/falsify QR codes, and it is more convenient for contact tracing purposes.
    • (Increase compliance) Punish offenders according to the related laws, for example, forging/falsifying a vaccination certificate, and fraudulent use of a vaccination certificate (criminal law), and failure to check necessary certificates by facilities subject to mandatory implementation of a vaccination certificate checking system (Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act)
      • – Tighten grip on facilities subject to mandatory implementation of a vaccination certificate/negative test result checking system, and perform crackdowns in the early stage of the transition to increase compliance.
      • – However, allow one week’s grace period to increase acceptance of the new scheme in the field, and publicize the new scheme further.

    3. Establish a medical response system for the gradual return to normalcy

    ◈ Treat all COVID-19 patients safely in the current medical system under national responsibility.

    ○ Establish appropriate treatment and management systems for different levels of severity.

    • (Projections) It is expected that the number of new confirmed cases will increase due to ① increased inter-personal contact according to the gradual return to normalcy starting in November, ② closed living environments due to seasonal factors such as cold weather, and ③ increased number of private gatherings for end-of-year and New Year’s events.
      • – Some predict that the number of new daily infections which is currently at 1,000 to 2,000 could increase to 4,000 to 5,000 in the worst case scenario in light of the factors mentioned above.
    • (Direction) Prepare for a medical response system that reflects the highest number of confirmed cases that can be expected.
    • (Principle) Switch the focus from treating patients in quarantine facilities to → home quarantine and home treatment. Establishment a medical response system that is more sustainable.
      • – Prevent the medical system from being overwhelmed by managing asymptomatic or mildly ill COVID-19 patients safely through home treatment (or community treatment centers) while hospitalizing moderately ill or severely ill patients.
      • – Discuss how to establish a medical response system* that can provide uninterrupted medical services to patients with illnesses other than COVID-19 infection while treating COVID-19 patients.
      • * (Example) Exclusive medical centers for special patients (childbirth, surgery, etc.) and critically ill patients in each metropolitan area, and general hospitals capable of providing outpatient treatment services to COVID-19 patients.
    • (Asymptomatic/mildly ill patients) Focus on home treatment. If home treatment is difficult,* admit them to community treatment centers.
      • * Prioritize patients with medical conditions that require hospitalization such as chronic illnesses (high blood pressure, diabetes, etc.) and mental illnesses, and patients who live in places where essential spaces (toilets, kitchens, etc.) are shared with others such as boarding houses.
      • – Gradually expand home treatment that is mainly practiced in SMA to non-SMA
    • (Moderately ill or severely ill patients) Utilize the existing hospital beds as much as possible. Reinforce the administrative order to secure additional hospital beds, and designate more hospitals dedicated to infectious disease treatment, if necessary.
      • * At present, there are enough hospital beds to treat up to 5,000 patients.
    • (Workforce) Utilize army surgeons and others as public medical personnel, strengthen the efforts to recruit private workforce, and expanded public health center personnel for quick dispatch of necessary workforce and quick on-site responses via dispatched medical personnel support system (April 2021–).

    4. COVID-19 protocols and quarantine measures for international travelers based on risk levels

    ◈ Quarantine and immigration restrictions on international travelers for high-risk countries

    ○ Perform contact tracing using ICT + Secure inspection capabilities and quarantine resources + Improve restrictions on international travel

    • (Improve efficiency of contact tracing) Promote completion of contact tracing on priority target contacts within 24 hours. Reduce the quarantine and monitoring periods (from 14 days to → 10 days).
      • – Enhance digital tracing by utilizing electronic contact tracing information (QR code), and reduce the time required to identify confirmed cases and visitors by upgrading the epidemiological investigation system.
    • (Strengthen diagnosis capabilities) Increase the maximum testing capabilities for PCR tests (650,000 tests), integrate screen centers and temporary screening centers, and establish an emergency testing system to prepare for an increase in confirmed cases.
    • (Strengthen immigration control) Simplify the quarantine classification system for different countries* (from four to → three categories), improve risk assessment indicators, and promote phased easing of COVID-19 protocols according to evaluation results.
      • * ① Strengthen quarantine measures for → Level 3 countries (high-risk countries). ② Monitor the infection trends in ③ general countries →Level 2 countries (general countries). ④ Countries with a possibility of increased exchange → Level 1 countries (safe countries)

    5. Active utilization of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments

    ◈ Strengthen safe vaccine administration and infection treatment based on public trust.

    ○ Promote administration of booster shots, and provide an appropriate level of compensations for damages.
    ○ Pre-order COVID-19 antiviral pills, and actively use it for treatment of the infection.

    • (Encourage vaccination for unvaccinated people) Simplify the vaccination procedure (e.g. appointments), strengthen communication on side effects, and introduce vaccination methods that reflect regional characteristics (age groups and foreign residents, etc.).
    • (Administer booster shots) Administer mRNA vaccines, and gradually expand the target group starting with high-risk groups.
    • (Increase compensations for damages) Guarantee objectivity and professionalism for damage compensation standards, strengthen support and assurance for suspected cases, and form and operate a domestic data analysis and review committee.
    • (Actively use medical treatments) Pre-order medical treatments for COVID-19 in line with global pharmaceutical companies’ (MSD, Pfizer, Roche, etc.) supply schedules (for 404,000 people), and purchase more treatments later in different phases.