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In Journal of Korean medical science

BACKGROUND : Since March 2020, when coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was declared a pandemic, many countries have applied unprecedented restrictive measures to contain the spread of the virus. This study aimed to explore the optimal social distancing policy for COVID-19 control in South Korea to safely reopen the society.

METHODS : We developed an age-specific, deterministic compartment epidemic model to examine the COVID-19 control decision-making process, including the epidemiology of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) between 1 July 2021 and 30 December 2022. The model consists of the natural history of COVID-19, testing performance, vaccinations, and social distancing enforcement measures to detect and control SARS-CoV-2. We modelled potential intervention scenarios with three distinct components: 1) social distancing duration and level; 2) testing intensity; and 3) vaccination uptake rate. The primary and secondary outcomes were COVID-19 incidence and prevalence of severe patients requiring intensive care unit (ICU) care.

RESULTS : Four (or more) months of social distancing (that can reduce 40-60% transmission) may mitigate epidemic resurgence and ICU demand in the future and keep the cases below the capacity limit if the testing intensity and vaccination rate remain constant or increase by 20% (with respect to the current level). In contrast, two months of strict social distancing enforcement may also successfully mitigate future epidemic surge and ICU demand as long as testing intensity and vaccination rates are increased by 20%.

CONCLUSION : In South Korea, given the relatively high vaccination coverage and low incidence, four or more months of social distancing enforcement can effectively mitigate epidemic resurgence after lifting the social distancing measures. In addition, increasing the testing intensity and vaccination rate may help reduce necessary social distancing levels and duration to prevent a future epidemic resurgence and mitigate social and economic damage.

Jo Youngji, Shrestha Sourya, Radnaabaatar Munkhzul, Park Hojun, Jung Jaehun


COVID-19, ICU, Pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, Social Distancing Policy