South Korea shuts nightspots in Seoul area

SEOUL (AP) — South Korea will ban large public gatherings and shut down nightspots in the greater capital area following an alarming surge in coronavirus cases.

In a nationally televised announcement yesterday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said strengthening social distancing restrictions for the Seoul metropolitan area — home to around half of the country’s 51 million people — was inevitable because a failure to slow transmissions there could result in a major outbreak nationwide.

The measures, which enter effect today in the capital, Seoul, and nearby Gyeonggi province and Incheon, prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors. Karaoke rooms, buffet restaurants, computer gaming cafes and other “high-risk” facilities will be shut.

Chung or other government officials did not immediately say how long the measures would be in place.

South Korea reported 246 new cases of the coronavirus yesterday, raising its total for the last five days to 959.

People wearing face masks pass by posters about precautions against the coronavirus at a subway station in Seoul, South Korea. PHOTO: AP

Meanwhle, Japanese Emperor Naruhito, his wife Empress Masako and their daughter Aiko cancelled their annual trip to a summer resort, citing social distancing challenges amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Every year, the imperial family has taken a week or two off and gone to Nasu, an area with forested mountains and onsen hot springs, about 190 kilometres north of Tokyo.

The getaway was cancelled this year because a large crowd usually gathers to catch a glimpse of them, and travel involves a large staff and security, the Imperial Household Agency said yesterday.

The head of a major state-owned Chinese pharmaceutical company said its coronavirus vaccine will be commercially available by the end of the year.

SinoPharm Chairman Liu Jingzhen told a Chinese Communist Party newspaper the vaccine would cost less than CNY1,000 and be given in two shots, 28 days apart.

He said students and workers in major cities would need to get the vaccine, but not those living in sparsely populated rural areas.

“Not all of the 1.4 billion people in our country have to take it,” he said in an interview published yesterday in the Guangming Daily.