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South Korean companies calling workers back to office

By
Im Min-cheol, UPI News Korea
Shoppers check information on products at a Lotte Duty Free in downtown Seoul.  Photo courtesy of Lotte Duty Free
Shoppers check information on products at a Lotte Duty Free in downtown Seoul.  Photo courtesy of Lotte Duty Free

SEOUL, April 1 (UPI) -- The South Korean government has warned people to keep up social distancing, but a growing number of companies are ordering employees back to the office as the number of new cases of the novel COVID-19 coronavirus continues to stabilize.

SK Telecom, the country's largest mobile operator, said Wednesday its staff would be able to work from the office starting Monday.

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The Seoul-based carrier encouraged most of its employees to work remotely over the past few weeks amid the coronavirus threat as part of a global effort to "flatten the curve" of new infections. Other SK affiliates, including SK E&C, took similar steps.

Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors employees stopped working from home late last month. They are the country's two largest automakers affiliated with Hyundai Motor Group.

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Major builders like Daelim Industrial and Hyundai Development Co. also stopped telecommuting as of this week. POSCO Engineering & Construction plan to follow suit next week.

South Korea is set to reopen schools April 9, although teachers will give their lessons online, the Education Ministry said Tuesday. The new semester has been postponed three times since early March.

College entrance exams will be rescheduled.

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Meanwhile, retailers are using technology to maintain social distancing.

Lotte Duty Free said Tuesday it has introduced "smart store" in downtown Seoul that minimizes human-to-human contact. Shoppers can check the detailed information of products through dedicated smartphone software and QR codes without the help of sales clerks.

The services are available in four languages -- Korean, English, Japanese and Chinese.

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SK Telecom, the country's top mobile operator, announced Monday that it would recruit new employees through video call interviews beginning next year.

The carrier also plans to promote itself to job applicants via YouTube starting in April instead of holding large offline events.

South Korea once had the largest cluster of COVID-19 cases outside China, where the outbreak started in December. In late February, the daily number of new cases peaked at nearly 1,000.

However, the number of new cases confirmed each day now hovers around 100, and much of the world has looked to South Korea as an example of a country successfully handling the pandemic.

Lee Jong-hwa and Lee Min-jae contributed to this report.

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