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Level 2 social distancing rules to be in place over Chuseok holiday

South Korea reports more than 100 COVID-19 cases for third consecutive day

Level 2 social distancing rules will remain in place across the nation over the long Chuseok holiday with tougher measures added, the government announced Friday, to prevent a rise in infections during the five-day period.

Health and Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo reiterated his calls for refraining from traveling and asked people to stay home during Chuseok, saying the country is at a critical juncture for the government’s antivirus fight.

“The large outbreak of COVID-19 has been contained and the situation is stabilizing, but in light of undetected infection cases and people‘s fatigue (in keeping social distancing rules), virus control during the holiday will serve as a critical point in deciding the scale of the outbreak in autumn,” he said at a briefing Friday.

During the Chuseok holiday, which runs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4, millions of South Koreans are expected to travel across the country to visit families and relatives or go on vacation.

The special virus control measures will come into force for the period of Sept. 28 to Oct. 11, designated as a special quarantine period.

Across the nation, gatherings of more than 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors will be prohibited and sports events will have to be held without spectators. Public saunas and internet cafes can operate with virus control measures in place, such as mandatory mask-wearing.

In the Seoul metropolitan area, operation of 11 types of high-risk businesses including nightclubs and karaoke rooms will be banned, and tougher measures will be imposed on cafes, restaurants, cinemas and more.

Restaurants, bakeries and cafes should keep their tables apart by at least 1 meter or install dividers between tables. Mask-wearing, regular ventilation and disinfection at such establishments are mandatory. They should also keep a log of visiting customers’ information.

Outside the capital region, five types of high-risk facilities are to be shut down for a week.

Those violating the government’s measures could face a fine of up to 3 million won ($2,560) and a claim for damages.

The government faces challenges in its fight against the coronavirus as clusters of infections continue to pop up largely in the Seoul metropolitan area, which is home to nearly half of the country’s population, and sources of infection for about 1 in 4 new cases reported for the past two weeks remain unknown.

Korea added 114 more COVID-19 cases -- 95 locally transmitted and 19 imported – in the last 24 hours ending Thursday at midnight, pushing up the total caseload to 23,455, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

The country reported more than 100 new COVID-19 cases for the third consecutive day Friday. The number of cases bounced back to over 100 on Wednesday after briefly seeing double-digit figures in daily new infections for three straight days before that. The country saw triple-digit gains in new cases for 37 days in a row dating to Aug. 14, triggered by clusters of infections from a Seoul-based church and Aug. 15 rally. The number peaked at 441 on Aug. 27.

Of Friday’s locally transmitted cases, the vast majority were in Greater Seoul -- 56 in Seoul, one in neighboring Incheon and 26 in Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds the capital. Outside the Seoul area, four cases were reported in North Gyeongsang Province, three in North Jeolla Province and one each in Gangwon Province, North Chungcheong Province and South Gyeongsang Province.

Of the 19 imported cases, 13 were identified while the individuals were under mandatory self-quarantine in Korea, with the other six detected during the quarantine screening process at the border. Fifteen came from elsewhere in Asia -- including eight from Uzbekistan -- with two from Europe and two from the United States. Sixteen of the imported cases involved foreign nationals.

The number of COVID-19 patients in serious or critical condition was 128 as of Friday.

Two more people died from the virus, bringing the death toll to 395. The overall fatality rate stands at 1.68 percent.

So far, of the 23,455 people confirmed to have contracted the new coronavirus here, 20,987 people have been released from quarantine upon making full recoveries, up 146 from a day earlier. Some 2,082 people are receiving medical treatment under quarantine.

The country carried out 11,277 tests in the past day, with a total of 2,280,276 tests done since Jan. 3. Some 19,575 people were awaiting results as of Friday.

By Ock Hyun-ju (