Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun speaks during an interagency meeting on the COVID-19 response held at the government complex in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)
The government will "prudently" determine whether to lower social distancing levels this week against the backdrop of the still unstable COVID-19 situation, as well as the approach of the traditional Lunar New Year holiday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Thursday.
The prime minister's remarks were made during an interagency meeting on the COVID-19 response held at the government complex in Seoul.
The government will announce new social distancing levels over the weekend ahead of the extended Lunar New Year holiday slated for Feb. 11-13. The announcement was originally scheduled for Friday but was postponed as the situation has worsened in recent days.
"Through prudent deliberations, (the government) will make a wise decision," the prime minister noted.
"The medical system has enough room (to handle outbreaks), but many other indicators, such as the latest infection figures, have turned unstable," he added.
Since early December, the greater capital area has been under the Level 2.5 social distancing guidelines, the second strongest of the five-tier system, with other areas under Level 2, the third highest.
As the tight distancing requirements prolonged, discontent is growing among businesses forced to close or cut down operations, such as cafes, bars or fitness studios.
However, health officials are still on alert against a potential flare-up of infections amid continuing mass outbreaks at religious facilities nationwide.
"How well the Lunar New Year fares is a very important variable (in fixing the new distancing level), while the government also needs to make sure the disease prevention rules are equal (to each business) and socially acceptable," the prime minister said.
He said the government, above all, needs to stabilize COVID-19 infections ahead of the holiday, as well as the start of the national COVID-19 vaccination in February.
In a separate media event later in the day, the prime minister revealed that the government had considered bringing down the social distancing levels but decided to think again.
"There had been discussion about downgrading the social distancing level, but (the government) decided to reconsider the matter due to recent group infections," Chung added.
The country reported 497 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, including 479 locally transmitted infections, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
It was the second straight day of the number staying around 500, a rebound from the preceding daily figures of around 400. (Yonhap)