Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum on Friday made it clear that the government is not shifting gears toward letting guard down against the coronavirus.
Kim cautioned against adjustments in guidelines around fully vaccinated people as being interpreted as a change in strategy of learning to live with the coronavirus in circulation at a meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters.
"The fourth wave is currently ongoing as we saw the number of newly confirmed cases staying over 2,000 for two days in a row this week," the prime minister said. "Even if the vaccination rate goes up, recovering our daily life that we desperately want will move further away without stabilizing the quarantine situation."
Last week, the government extended social distancing guidelines -- Level 4 in Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and Incheon and Level 3 for the rest of the country -- until Oct. 3. But health authorities have made a few adjustments to restrictions on gatherings.
For areas where Level 4 distancing rules are in place, the slightly eased rules allow private gatherings of up to six for fully inoculated people. For the unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, the original restrictions of gatherings of up to four until 6 p.m. and up to two after 6 p.m. remain.
Under Level 3 guidelines, up to eight people can get together, but there must be at least four people who are fully inoculated.
Regarding the Chuseok holiday, up to eight family members can meet even under Level 4 distancing rules from Sept. 17 to 23, but at least four of them have to be fully vaccinated.
The prime minister stressed that the slightly relaxed rules do not mean easing quarantine measures, adding that the eased guidelines were prepared in consideration of the vaccination rate, the suffering endured by the self-employed and the pain in the hearts of people who have refrained from visiting their hometown since the pandemic.
"If a loophole in the quarantine gets bigger amid loose tension during the Chuseok holiday when there will be a lot of movement, the situation will inevitably worsen," Kim said.
"If the spread of infection occurs from the Greater Seoul area to the noncapital regions, the epidemic can become longer and more serious."
The country reported 1,892 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 for the 24 hours of Thursday. Of them, 1,386 were recorded in the Greater Seoul area, which includes Gyeonggi Province and Incheon. With the latest tally, the weekly average number of daily confirmed cases in Greater Seoul exceeded 1,200 for the first time since the virus outbreak in the country early last year.
By Kan Hyeong-woo (email@example.com