S. Korea Extends Social Distancing Measures After Resurgence

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South Korea will extend social distancing restrictions imposed during its worst coronavirus spread for another two weeks, as new infections resurged last week and reversed a downward trend.

The alert for the greater Seoul area, where half of the country’s population live, will be maintained at the second-highest level of 2.5 for the additional two-week period, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said in a meeting Sunday. A ban on gatherings of more than four people will also be extended amid concerns around the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday.

Current measures were due to expire Jan. 31 and the extension would take the restrictions through to Feb. 14, the end of the holiday. Cafes and restaurants will be required to close at 9 p.m., and gatherings at clubs and karaoke bars remain banned.

After peaking at more than 1,000 in late December, daily infections had dropped significantly to fewer than 400 due to testing, contact tracing and targeted restrictions. However, cluster outbreaks at dormitory-style cram schools raised the number of new cases per day to almost 600 last week, prompting health authorities to withdraw plans to ease measures.

S. Korea Extends Social Distancing Measures After Resurgence

The latest uptick -- after what appeared to be signs that the third wave may have been contained -- highlights the challenges faced by a country that has been hailed as a model for managing the virus without having to take draconian measures such as lockdowns.

The decision also comes as part of efforts to smoothly begin Covid-19 vaccinations and a new school semester in March. The country will receive 117,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines for about 60,000 people as early as mid-February, Chung said in the meeting.

Considering the financial difficulties small businesses are facing due to the restrictions, health authorities will reexamine whether to adjust the level of distancing measures in a week, but will continue to urge people not to gather during the upcoming holidays.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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