Medical workers collect specimens for coronavirus testing at a makeshift clinic in front of Seoul Station on Jan. 11, 2021. (Yonhap)
South Korea on Saturday eased restrictions on previously shuttered or scaled back businesses as the number of new coronavirus cases in South Korea stayed in the 500s for the fifth consecutive day.
The country added 580 more COVID-19 cases, including 547 local infections, raising the total caseload to 71,820, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
Saturday's daily number marked a slight increase from 513 posted a day earlier, the KDCA said.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun announced the government will extend its current social distancing level for two weeks starting Monday but ease business restrictions on cafes, gyms and other indoor facilities.
Under the new measures, the capital area will continue to enforce Level 2.5, the second highest in a five-tier system, and the rest of the nation will remain under Level 2.
The ban on private gatherings of five or more people, and the restriction on business operations after 9 p.m., will also be kept intact.
However, indoor gyms, cram schools and karaoke establishments will be allowed to reopen on the condition that they strictly adhere to antivirus measures.
Restrictions on cafes and houses of worship will also be eased in response to criticism that they are excessive, Chung said.
The third wave of the pandemic began in mid-November, pushing the daily infection count up to a peak of 1,241 on Dec. 25.
The daily figure breached the 1,000 threshold multiple times.
To cope with the soaring number of COVID-19 cases, health authorities adopted Level 2.5 in the greater Seoul area and Level 2 in other parts of the country on Dec. 8.
South Korea added 19 more deaths Saturday, raising the total caseload to 1,236, the KDCA said. (Yonhap)