Starting Monday, the most restrictive social distancing measures are taking effect in Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi Province and Incheon for the next two weeks to control the surging number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
The number of newly confirmed cases recorded 1,324 in the 24 hours ending Saturday at midnight, marking the third day in a row that the figure had stayed in the 1,300s. On Friday the country set a record for the highest number of new infections reported in one day, with 1,378 people testing positive.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, nearly 8,000 new cases were found over the past week alone, accounting for almost 5 percent of the total number of infections reported to date, which stood at 168,046 as of Sunday. It has been over 76 weeks since the country saw its first coronavirus infection in January last year.
The Level 4 social distancing measures -- the toughest to be imposed yet -- prohibit private gatherings of more than two people after 6 p.m. and before 5 a.m. in the Greater Seoul area. At all other times of day, gatherings of up to four people are allowed. Violators face fines of 100,000 won ($87).
Restaurants, cafes, pubs and sports facilities are not allowed to stay open after 10 p.m. During opening hours, they must admit no more than one person per 8 square meters.
Businesses that break the rules can face fines of up to 3 million won.
The government also recommended that companies have 30 percent of their employees work from home, and that they stagger commuting and lunch schedules.
No large-scale events are permitted, including rallies or protests, with the exception of one-person demonstrations. Weddings and funerals are restricted to family and can include no more than 49 people.
Sporting events will be held without spectators. Religious services can only be done remotely.
“We believe the last crisis has come before achieving more than 70 percent vaccination in the second half of the year. In order to get through this well, cooperation and participation by all people are more important than anything else,” Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said Friday.
“If we get through the next two weeks safely, vaccinations for people in their 50s will begin in earnest from the end of July. After that, everyone eligible for vaccination will have completed the first inoculation by the end of September.”
Approximately 15.6 million people -- 30.4 percent of the country’s population -- have received their first coronavirus jabs, the KCDA said, and 5.87 million people are fully vaccinated.
According to the government’s COVID-19 vaccination response task force, vaccine reservations will be open for people aged between 55 and 59 from Monday through Friday. About 3.5 million people are eligible for the Moderna shot. Health authorities plan to administer the jabs starting July 26.
People aged 60 to 74 who made reservations in May or June but had to cancel or postpone their appointments due to health reasons or technical difficulties can make new appointments starting Monday.
In regards to the rising concerns about people in their 20s and 30s spreading the virus, as they tend to be more socially active, health authorities said the government did not plan on administering vaccines to this group earlier than scheduled.
“We have prioritized inoculations for the elderly, people with underlying diseases, and medical workers who can administer shots and take care of patients,” said Kwon Jun-wook, head of the Korea National Institute of Health.
“Currently, vaccination is being carried out for 50-somethings between late July and August. Once the vaccination is complete for them after mid-August, we will swiftly push ahead to inoculate those in their 40s.”
By Kan Hyeong-woo (email@example.com