South Korea largely returned to normal on Wednesday as workers returned to their offices and museums and libraries reopened under softened social distancing rules after new cases of coronavirus fell into disrepair .
The South suffered one of the worst early epidemics of the disease outside of China, and although it has never imposed mandatory foreclosure, strict social distancing has been widely observed since March.
Employees were asked to work from home whenever possible, while the new school term was postponed from early March.
Dozens of events – from K-pop concerts to sporting seasons – have been delayed or canceled, while museums and galleries have been closed and church services suspended.
But the South seems to have brought its epidemic under control thanks to a vast program of “tracing, testing and treatment” which has aroused many praises. In a population of 51 million, its death toll is just over 250 and new cases have slowed to a handful – 13 in the past three days, all arriving from international passengers. Over 90 of the cases imported into the South are returning citizens.
On Wednesday morning, at least 100 people visited the National Museum of Korea in Seoul and the first visitors of the day – a married couple – received a bouquet of flowers from the staff.
“Many of our colleagues have also returned to work today, so we are very happy with the reopening, we are very happy,” museum spokesperson Lee Hyun-ju told AFP.
Some workers were bittersweet at the thought of going back to the office.
“I wanted to go home as soon as I sat at my desk in the office today. But there is also that strange feeling of stability,” wrote a poster on Twitter.
Another tweeted, “I feel like my vacation is over now.”
The South reported two new infections on Wednesday, bringing the total to 10,806, the Korea Centers for Disease Control said.
Some professional sports, including baseball and football, are entering their new season this week after being postponed for fear of viruses, even though the matches will be played behind closed doors.
Schools will reopen in stages starting May 13.
Under what Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun has called “quarantine of daily life”, South Koreans are still encouraged to wear masks and wash their hands frequently, among other recommendations.