SEOUL -- South Korea deserves compliment for setting another good example as the first country in the world to hold elections without trouble, health officials said, praising active cooperation by voters who have risked strict and cumbersome quarantine procedures to prevent the penetration of a novel coronavirus into polling stations.
Of 43.99 million eligible voters, 29.12 million, or 66.2 percent, cast ballots in elections to form a new legislative body. Turnout was the highest in 28 years. Health officials reported 22 new infections on the day of voting. Since the first case was reported on January 20, 7,757 patients have been cured while 2,627 others are still under treatment. COVID-19 has killed 229 people.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), a state health watchdog, called for careful monitoring for at least two weeks to see if elections sparked a new wave of infections. However, the watchdog's initial assessment was optimistic.
"We are probably the first country in the world to hold a national election," Deputy Health and Welfare Minister Kim Kang-rip said proudly. "With our open and transparent response to COVID-19, we hope that it would become another good example for other countries around the world."
Kim described the management of balloting as a difficult task to prepare as it needed to harmonize democracy and quarantine. "Our assessment is that the turnout was high because we took appropriate preventive measures on the spot and probably because of the public's understanding of them," he said, proposing a social campaign to cheer medical personnel involved in a tough fight against COVID-19.
"Although the global COVID-19 pandemic has delayed elections in many countries, it was possible to prepare and hold elections with thorough quarantine guidelines thanks to the active cooperation of the people and, above all, election officials and local government officials who worked hard," Kim said.
Kim said South Korea would think about gradual and cautious steps to ease strict quarantine guidelines and social distancing, citing Singapore which saw a new wave of infections after schools opened classes. A survey of public opinions is under way from April 12 to 28 in South Korea over how to change social distancing.
South Korea has opened discussions on how to implement a new protocol in which daily life and economic activities can proceed in harmony with quarantine. Experts and government officials are trying to work out a new system that blocks the spread of infectious diseases while allowing some activities to address public fatigue and sluggish economic activities.
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