Ministries, government organizations and municipal administrations are rushing to draw up countermeasures against a possible spike in the number of COVID-19 infections during the five-day Chuseok holiday that starts Sept. 30.
Chuseok is one of Korea’s biggest annual celebrations, during which millions of people travel to their hometowns nationwide to perform ancestral commemoration ceremonies and spend time with their family members.
The health authorities are concerned ahead of this Chuseok holiday as the country has already experienced a surge in the number of new daily coronavirus cases during the so-called “golden holiday” between April 30 and May 5, and during the three-day holiday from Aug. 15 Liberation Day to the one-off national holiday, Aug. 17.
Specifically, the country’s daily tally of new cases has been in triple digits since Aug. 13 amid a second wave of infections, although for the last three days the total has stayed below 100.
Based on these experiences, the government is asking people to refrain from visiting their hometowns or places where many traditionally gather during the holiday, designating the two weeks starting Sept. 28 as a “special period” for strong nationwide anti-virus efforts.
The government has already implemented some measures aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19.
The Korea Railroad Corp. has sold only window seats on trains to keep a distance between passengers, while highway toll fees that are usually waived during Chuseok will be collected this year.
“Highway toll fees have been waived since 2017, but those fees will be collected this year in order to prevent highways from getting congested,” Vice Minister of Health and Welfare Kim Gang-lip said. “We hope residents will understand the government’s decision.”
Kim noted highway toll fees collected during Chuseok will be used to support the disinfection of service areas.
The Ministry of Environment is bracing for a rapid increase in waste during the annual celebration as the public health crisis is expected to lead to an increase in gift deliveries and the use of disposable products.
The ministry is planning to carry out inspections in cooperation with local governments and other relevant organizations into companies suspected of illegal waste disposal.
“We will make every effort to curbing illegal trash dumping,” a ministry official said. “And we will increase support for companies that have been complying with waste disposal guidelines.”
For its part, the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission has asked government offices to be fully ready for a possible surge in complaints during Chuseok amid growing fears over more outbreaks during the holiday.
The commission said many people have already made a lot of inquiries about travel or gathering restrictions, social distaining guidelines and school schedules during the holiday.
Local governments are also working hard to draw up their own countermeasures against the spread of the disease.
Yesan County in South Chungcheong Province has decided to shut down a cemetery there from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4 to prevent infection clusters that could occur with many people visiting.
The decision came as several people there who recently tested positive for COVID-19 were found to have had contact with infected persons living in the other parts of the country.
The county office asked people who were planning to visit the cemetery to honor the memory of deceased family members during Chuseok to consider alternatives.
“The decision was made to protect the people’s safety and stop the spread of the virus. We ask people to fully cooperate,” a county office official said.
Vice Minister Kim said the government is working to draw up detailed guidelines for Chuseok, adding that an announcement will be made soon.
“All of us should not lower our guard against the coronavirus as large-scale population movements are expected during Chuseok,” he said. “We should make efforts to prevent the holiday from becoming another source of the COVID-19 outbreak.”
Kim Woo-joo, a professor at Korea University Guro Hospital, stressed the need to wear face masks when visiting family.
“There have been many cases where people were infected with the virus from family members,” he said. “The government will need to announce measures that will help people spend time with their families in a safer manner.”
SOURCE: The KoreaTimes