Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum speaks during a COVID-19 response meeting in Seoul, Friday. (Yonhap)
The South Korean government announced Friday that it will raise the private gathering size limit to 10 people and push back the current 11 p.m. curfew on restaurants and cafes to midnight.
“Other COVID-19 preventive measures will remain unchanged,” Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said during a COVID-19 response meeting in Seoul on Friday.
The new social distancing rules will be effective from Monday for two weeks.
Previously, expectations were growing for the latest change to social distancing rules to be the last, as the government viewed that the spread of COVID-19 passed its peak earlier this month.
The transition team of President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol also earlier suggested that the government needs to consider lifting existing curfews on business hours if it is not so effective at the moment.
Kim, however, explained that the government could not completely remove social distancing rules due to potential increases in severe cases and deaths, as well the ongoing spread of stealth omicron -- the subvariant of omicron also known as BA.2.
The government currently expects the number of daily COVID-19 cases to go up by 10-20 percent without the social distancing rules.
Son Young-rae, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Welfare, also said Friday that the decision to not scrap the social distancing rules entirely is to minimize increases in the number of critically ill patients and COVID-19 deaths.
Son added that the government will consider lifting all social distancing rules and other antivirus measures next time if the pandemic situation improves under the newly adjusted rules, hinting that all rules could be lifted with the exception of the indoor mask mandate.
Meanwhile, the country added 280,273 daily COVID-19 cases during the 24 hours of Thursday, recording a figure below 300,000 for the first time in four days, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. The total caseload has reached 13,375,818.
The number of severe cases and COVID-19 related deaths, however, stayed high.
On Thursday, the country suffered 360 COVID-19 deaths, raising the death toll from COVID-19 to 16,590. The fatality rate stood at 0.12 percent.
The number of critically ill patients came to 1,299, down 16 from the record high of 1,315 reported a day prior.
By Shim Woo-hyun (email@example.com