How Korea Is Reopening

The official guide to routine distancing
12 min readMay 11, 2020


These are the official reopening guidelines from South Korea, translated by the COVID Translate Project. But actually, it’s not a reopening guide at all.

They call it the Detailed Guidelines for Routine Distancing in Daily Life.

There’s no reopening because Korea never closed. Everybody else, however, did, so I’ll just call it reopening. As we stumble into a new, distant world, this is how one non-basket-case country is doing it. There’s a lot we can learn.

Before we get into it, I must note that reopening is hard.

Just a few days in, Korea had another outbreak. One person went clubbing in Itaewon and now they have nearly a hundred new cases, many of them asymptomatic. And because it was in a gay district, it’s exposing dangerous fissures in society.

No plan survives first contact with the enemy, but let’s see what we can learn from Korea.


Because relapses are almost guaranteed, you must have a strong test/trace/isolate regime in place. If you don’t have strong public health tools, you’ll have to lockdown until you do. You can only safely reopen when your caseload is near zero, and when your public health game is tight.

That’s a prerequisite.

So you’re at zeroish cases and you have a shelf full of tests and PPE (I mean, lol, but OK). How does your country get back to work?

Here’s the guide.

It’s a bit long so I’ve made pictures.

1. The Common Guidelines

The common guidelines for South Korea

These guidelines are for everybody and every situation. If you scroll no further, understand this.



Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at, or just email me at