Germany and South Korea show that life beyond the blockade is not what people think it will be

What we can learn from South Korea about containing Covid-19

So how are they preparing to return to “normal” life? In a word: cautiously. And those who look enviously from other countries may notice that much remains far from normal.

South Korea – which had the largest outbreak in China in February – used a combination of widespread testing, aggressive contact traceability, stringent public health measures and digital technology to contain coronavirus without imposing a generalized blockade . It also maintained a strict quarantine regime.

Thanks to these measures, newly diagnosed cases slowed down and the national death toll stood at 256 starting on Friday, according to its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In this context, the South Korean government began on Wednesday to relax its rigid rules of social removal, imposed on March 22, but only in line with a series of guidelines called the “removal in daily life” policy.

According to these guidelines, people should stay at home if they become ill with suspected Covid-19 symptoms, continue to maintain a distance of 2 meters (6 feet) from others, wash their hands for 30 seconds and keep rooms well ventilated and disinfect regularly. Those over the age of 65 and in high-risk groups should continue to stay at home and avoid closed and crowded spaces.

As stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the country, the policy “should not be interpreted as a return to” normal “as before the epidemic, but rather as an effort to achieve both the prevention / control of infectious diseases both daily life “.

In keeping with this, South Korea’s baseball season resumed Tuesday, but with games played in empty stadiums, while referees and grassroots coaches wore masks. In one game, instead of the first ceremonial pitch, there was a socially distant beginning when a boy in a large clear ball walked from the mound to the receiver.

The children will start returning to school from May 13th. Speaking on Monday, South Korean education minister Yoo Eun-Hae told students what to expect from this new post-coronavirus reality.

“As soon as you get to a lesson, you will have to clean the desk while the windows should be open frequently,” he said. “You will also be required to wear a mask except during meals and to maintain double arm distance when you are on the move or online. You must remember these rules and we encourage you to keep them.”

South Korea’s prime minister, Chung Sye-kyun, said in a conference on Sunday that closed facilities will gradually reopen and that events and meetings will be allowed as long as they comply with disinfection guidelines.

“It’s so refreshing and relaxing to finally relieve,” said Ju Eun-song, a 32-year-old store assistant, at the AFP news agency as the restrictions were eased on Wednesday.

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“As we end the social distance, we are in a phase where people are getting used to everyday life,” 38-year-old businessman Jo Jae-hong told the news agency.

But the emergence on Friday of more than a dozen new cases related to an individual who visited three night clubs in Seoul last weekend served as a warning of how quickly the virus can regain a foothold. Officials quickly advised clubs and bars to close for the following month.

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Dr. Peter Drobac, a global health expert at Oxford Saïd Business School, believes that the experiences of other governments indicate that a cautious approach is the right one.

“There is no strict recipe that will work elsewhere, but there are a number of principles,” he told CNN via email.

“First, flattening the curve – or better yet, crushing the curve – until there is a sustained reduction in new cases. Opening up when there is still an uncontrolled spread of the community, as in some parts of the United States, is madness.”

Secondly, he said, countries need to make sure that their health system can cope without crisis measures and that health workers have the necessary protective equipment; thirdly, a huge testing capability must be available.

“Fourth, contact tracking – which requires people and technology – and a plan to isolate cases and quarantine contacts. Isolation shouldn’t be done at home! That’s where most of the transmission takes place. It doesn’t I understand why this is being ignored in the United Kingdom and the United States. “

Finally, high-risk and vulnerable groups need to be protected, he said, as renewed mobility of people increases the risk of new infections.

“The key to reopening is to compensate for that risk with testing, traceability and isolation,” he said. “These are real interventions that break the chains of transmission. It does not mean that you can return to normal, but it increases the chances that you can start opening safely.”

Other countries can learn a lot from South Korea, he said.

“It’s easy to talk about” testing, tracking, isolating “but it’s difficult to do. When looking at the robustness of South Korea’s response, it’s a formidable set of lessons that can be replicated,” said Drobac. “The other important factor in South Korea appears to be transparent communication and public trust. It will be more difficult in places where the response has been poorly managed or politicized, such as the United States and the United Kingdom.”

Germans can “afford courage”

The children respect the rules of social removal when they enter Petri elementary school in Dortmund, western Germany, on Thursday, while the school reopens for some pupils.

Germany is also taking a gradual approach to reopening business after a blockade of weeks.

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Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday he told the Germans that they could “afford some courage”, but they warned that “we have to watch that this doesn’t get out of hand”.

The limits on social contacts would remain in effect until June 5, he said, but now people can meet with members of another family and with their own. However, people must remain 1.5 meters (5 feet) apart and cover their mouth and nose in public.

Stores can reopen, but with additional sanitation, Merkel added, speaking in a press conference following a video meeting with the prime ministers of the 16 German states. “The first phase of the pandemic is behind us but we are still at the beginning and will remain with us for a long time,” said Merkel.

The best German football league, the Bundesliga, will resume playing from May 16, but with strict restrictions and without spectators. It will be the first major European league to return to action.

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The coronavirus response in Germany is widely viewed as a success story in Europe. The country’s Covid-19 death toll has remained relatively low compared to other countries and its adequately resourced healthcare system has enabled its hospitals to accept patients from other more confusing European countries. Germany’s advanced diagnostic industry has allowed for mass tests from the start.

According to estimates, the coronavirus reproduction rate – a crucial measure – dropped to 0.65, according to reports from the country’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). This means that on average 100 people will infect 65 others.

Currently, Germany is able to perform 964,000 coronavirus tests per week, said the RKI, although only a third of that capacity has been used in the past week.

Visitors wearing masks make an exhibition at the Schirn Kunsthalle art museum in Frankfurt on Wednesday, the first day of reopening to the public during the coronavirus crisis.

The relatively cautious German approach to reopening appears prudent, said Drobac.

“New daily cases have fallen by the hundreds – this is not trivial, but it is a level that can hopefully be managed with a strong test, traceability and isolation system,” he said.

Germany’s decentralized governance system, combined with national coordination, means that there is useful local flexibility to decide exactly how and when to facilitate recommendations for social removal, he said.

“Big cities may need to move slower than rural areas, for example. But most importantly, Germany triggered a trigger: if new cases exceed 50 per 100,000, it automatically blocks the easing of social distance. I don’t know if it will work, but it looks like an intelligent evidence-based approach we have. “

Lifting the block ‘slowly but surely’

Elsewhere, an urgent discussion continues on how to lift restrictions on people’s lives and restart the economy without compromising the progress made in reducing the spread of coronavirus. And even if the measures are relaxed, citizens face a very different reality.

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In Italy, around 4 million people were allowed to return to work this week – many of them construction and industrial workers – and Italians were again allowed to visit family members in the same region. Reopening of bars and restaurants, but only for takeaway orders.

Government and church leaders also announced Thursday that masses and weddings could be celebrated in churches on May 18, after being banned for nearly two months. But the services won’t look the same.

According to the protocol agreed by the leaders, the priest and worshipers will have to wear masks. The priest will give communion by wearing gloves and must take care to “avoid any contact with the hands of the faithful”.

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Worshipers will also need to maintain a distance of one meter (3 feet) from others inside and outside the church, and anyone with a fever will not be allowed.

France will also begin lifting restrictions on home stay from Monday, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Thursday. He said it would be a “very gradual process” to “slowly but surely” lift blocking measures.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to deliver a televised speech on Sunday about his nation’s restrictions. Newspaper headlines suggested significant relaxation is on the cards. But Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who hosted the Covid-19 daily briefing on Downing Street on Thursday, said that any measure would be “incremental” and “relatively modest”.

Meanwhile, in the United States, while some press for a faster reopening of businesses hard hit by orders to stay home, others fear that the peak of Covid-19 infections has yet to come in some states, or that a second wave of infections may be worse than the first.

Drobac warns that the idea of ​​choosing between the priority of public health or the economy “is a mistake”.

“The only way to deal with the economic crisis is to deal with the public health crisis. Remember, a blockade isn’t a solution: it’s an emergency stop that takes time to develop a strategy and prepare for,” he said.

“Right now there are dozens, if not hundreds, of small experiments going on around the world as countries and communities try to open up. We will learn a lot from this period on what the new normal should look like for the next two years. “

CNN’s Yoonjung Seo and Seoul’s Sophie Jeong contributed to this report. CNN’s Nadine Schmidt, Stephanie Halasz and Livia Borghese also contributed.

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