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[Newsmaker] Tougher distancing regulations take effect, limiting crowds at public facilities

A nightclub in Seoul is relatively empty on Thursday, when Level 1.5 social distancing takes effect. (Yonhap)
A nightclub in Seoul is relatively empty on Thursday, when Level 1.5 social distancing takes effect. (Yonhap)
As a tougher social distancing scheme took effect on Thursday in the greater Seoul area and some other areas where COVID-19 infections have soared recently, high-risk multiuse facilities, such as restaurants and movie theaters, face restrictions in operation.

The South Korean government earlier decided to raise the five-tier social distancing scheme by one notch to Level 1.5 in the capital city; the surrounding Gyeonggi Province; Incheon; Gwangju, some 330 kilometers south of Seoul; and a region in the eastern province of Gangwon.

The Level 1.5 alert is largely aimed at limiting the number of people in closed areas and mass gatherings to curb the spread of the virus.

In facilities with higher risk of virus infection, including bars, clubs, indoor concert halls, restaurants and cafes, the maximum capacity is reduced to one person per 4 square meters.

People are not allowed to dance or move to other tables in nightclubs, while eating and drinking are prohibited during concerts.

Owners of restaurants and coffee shops bigger than 50 square meters should keep a 1-meter distance between tables or install partitions.

Such limited capacity and spacing between seats are also required at regular facilities, including fitness centers, internet cafes, private academies, wedding halls, funeral homes and public bathhouses.

At cinemas and theaters for musicals and classical concerts, a vacant seat should be placed between groups of friends or families.

The number of people allowed to assemble for religious and sports events is limited to 30 percent of full capacity.

Rallies and demonstrations as well as large-scale concerts and festivals, which involve "high-risk" activities such as chanting and singing, are subject to a cap of under 100 people.

Business operators and rally organizers who violate the upgraded rules will face up to 3 million won ($2,700) in fines.

The social distancing measures came as health authorities are grappling with another potential wave of the pandemic in the Seoul metropolitan area, home to nearly half of the nation's population of 50 million.

On Thursday, the country reported nearly 350 new coronavirus cases, reaching the highest level since late August due to sporadic infections in community settings across the nation. About 180 infections were from the greater Seoul area.

The government is closely monitoring the coronavirus situation for a decision on whether to raise the social distancing guidelines by another notch. (Yonhap)
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