Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum presides over a meeting of a government-civilian panel overseeing the transition to life after COVID-19 at the government complex in Seoul on Friday. (Yonhap)
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said Friday hard-hit businesses and low-risk facilities will be the first to benefit from eased COVID-19 restrictions starting next month.
Kim made the remark during a meeting of a government-civilian panel overseeing the transition to life after COVID-19.
"The return to normal will proceed in stages and systematically," he said. "We will take drastic and active steps to ease the virus restrictions starting with businesses and neglected groups that have suffered greatly (during the pandemic), and facilities with a low risk of spreading infections."
Health authorities have said they plan to relax COVID-19 restrictions next month as part of a transition to "living with COVID-19" as the rate of fully vaccinated people nears 70 percent.
Of the country's 52 million people, 68.2 percent have been fully vaccinated, while 79.2 percent have received their first shots.
Restaurants and cafes, which are among the hardest hit establishments, are expected to be among the first to be allowed to operate under eased restrictions, health authorities said.
Kim said that in the early stages of the transition eased restrictions will have to apply only to the fully vaccinated.
"Vaccinations help prevent infections and greatly reduce the number of serious cases and deaths, so it is an inevitable choice," he said.
The prime minister stressed, however, that it will be important for facilities to still follow basic antivirus precautions once the mandates are lifted.
South Korea has implemented a four-level social distancing scheme, with the greater Seoul area currently under the strictest level, which includes curfews on restaurant hours and caps on the size of private gatherings.
The government plans to announce specific guidelines for the return to normal next week based on discussions at Friday's meeting. (Yonhap)