On a recent evening in Seoul, colleagues and students sat around plastic tables outside restaurants, their chatter interrupted only by the filling of tiny glasses with soju spirit.

They had something to celebrate. Last week, South Korea, once the hardest-hit country outside China, took a cautious first step into a post-coronavirus world, less than four months since it reported its first case.

Six weeks of strict social distancing has been replaced by a recommendation to practise “routine distancing” – a more relaxed regime that authorities hope will prevent a recurrence of a virus that 51 million South Koreans appear to have seen off.