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S. Korea expands tougher social distancing nationwide amid ‘grave situation’

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo calls the ongoing coronavirus spread
Health Minister Park Neung-hoo calls the ongoing coronavirus spread "grave" at a briefing, Aug. 22, 2020. (Yonhap)

South Korean health authorities said Saturday that they will expand nationwide heightened social distancing rules currently in place for Seoul and the surrounding areas only.

“We’re at a crossroads, in a very grave situation, for a nationwide coronavirus transmission. We’ll have to see to it if we fail to curb the spread now,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo told a briefing, adding the expansion would take effect Sunday.

But the health minister said some municipalities with relatively few infections could opt to ease up the rules in their jurisdictions. Gangwon and North Gyeongsang Provinces are examples of those exceptions, according to the minister.

Under the heightened social distancing rules, any indoor meetings of 50 people or more and outdoor gatherings of 100 or more are banned, while high-risk facilities ranging from nightclubs, karaoke bars, buffets, gyms and private cram schools are shut down.

In-person church services would also be prohibited. Sports events would go on but without spectators on the side.

Starting Wednesday, elementary and middle schools, along with kindergartens, will have to reduce student attendance to one-third of the total, with high schools lowering them to two-thirds.

Schools are ordered to move classes online if they see cluster infections nearby.

The minister said the authorities would move to secure additional hospital beds to prepare for a growing number of infected patients.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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