South Korea tightens curbs in Seoul

SEOUL (XINHUA) – South Korea decided yesterday to raise its social-distancing rules in the Seoul metropolitan area by one notch to the second-highest level for three weeks amid a COVID-19 resurgence for the past month.

The country’s five-tier social-distancing regulations will be lifted to Level 2.5 for the next three weeks in the capital area, which covers Seoul, its surrounding Gyeonggi province and the western port city of Incheon.

The distancing guidelines had been elevated to Level 2 for two weeks from November 24 to today, but the virus spread had yet to be contained in the metropolitan region. The guidelines were tightened from the lowest Level 1 to Level 1.5 on November 19 in the capital area.

In the latest tally, South Korea reported 631 more cases of COVID-19 for the past 24 hours, raising the total number of infections to 37,546. The daily caseload was the highest in over nine months since March 2, rising in triple digits for 29 days since November 8.

Of the new cases, 253 were Seoul residents and 176 were people residing in Gyeonggi province. Incheon added 41 more cases.

People walk along on a nearly empty shopping street in Seoul. PHOTO: AP

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told the meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters that the country was faced with the biggest crisis in fighting against the COVID-19.

Chung said situations in the metropolitan area got very serious, citing the daily number of infections in the capital area reaching a new high of 470 and about 70 per cent of new cases coming from the Seoul area for the past week.

The prime minister urged people to refrain from gatherings and meetings, and thoroughly follow basic quarantine rules, such as wearing masks and washing hands.

Under the Level 2.5 distancing, stricter restrictions will be imposed on the operation of high-risk facilities, while any gathering or event of more than 50 people will be banned.

In addition to five entertainment facilities, businesses will be stopped in four more risky facilities including karaoke bars, indoor theatres and door-to-door sales companies.

With the Level 2 distancing, indoor dining will not be allowed in coffee shops and cafes, and only takeaway and delivery to be permitted.

Restaurants will be allowed to serve food until 9pm, with delivery and takeout to be available afterward.

The so-called general facilities will have to stop operation after 9pm, facing a limited capacity, a certain distance away from each seat and the ban of eating food.

The general facilities include department stores and discount outlets of over 300 square metres, amusement parks, movie theatres, hair salons, Internet cafes, study rooms and private cram schools.