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Social distancing rules could be strengthened beyond greater Seoul area, prime minister says

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum (Yonhap)
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum (Yonhap)
South Korea could extend the ban on private gatherings of five or more people under effect in greater Seoul area to the rest of the country, as the country looks to overcome its worst-ever COVID-19 wave to date.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said Friday that strengthening social distancing rules and other virus control measures should be reviewed to minimize confusion and minimize infection among those who travel during the summer holiday season.

While most of the cases today are reported from Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province, Kim said other provinces and cities have also experienced surge in number of new cases recently, which should not be regarded lightly.

“I ask local governments outside the capital region to review unifying limitations on private gatherings to up to four,” Kim said during a meeting Friday, meaning local governments should also consider setting a cap of four people for private gatherings.

South Korea on Friday reported 1,536 new COVID-19 cases, 1,476 locally transmitted and 60 imported from overseas. Around 75 percent of the locally transmitted cases were added from Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province.

The proportion of new daily cases from the non-capital region has stayed above 20 percent for eight consecutive days, the highest of which at 29.4 percent reported Thursday.

As South Korea undergoes its most infectious COVID-19 wave to date, the greater Seoul area has been under the strictest level of social distancing rules since Monday, and most other regions toughened their rules Thursday.

In the greater capital region, private gatherings are limited to no more than four people until 6 p.m., and no more than two after 6 p.m. Most establishments are subject to 10 p.m. curfew, entertainment facilities like nightclubs and bars have been ordered to shut doors.

As resurgence continued, most regions outside the capital applied Level 2 social distancing rules in their areas, which bans gatherings of nine people or more.

Kim asked other local governments to join and heighten their virus control measures, as virus authorities expect daily cases to peak in the 2,000s by mid-August but fall back to the 600s with strict social distancing scheme and continued inoculation efforts.

As of Thursday’s end, 15.9 million people, or 31.1 percent of South Korea’s population, have received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccines. Around 12.3 percent of the whole population have been fully vaccinated.

By Ko Jun-tae (