This photo taken on Thursday, shows a smartphone installed at a restaurant in Seoul for a vaccine pass entry log system. (Yonhap)
The government decided to raise the private gathering size limit to six while keeping a 9 p.m. curfew on restaurants and cafes for the next three weeks, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said Friday.
The decision came as the number of daily COVID-19 cases has been around 4,000 in recent days with the government's robust booster shot campaign and tightened antivirus curbs after reaching as high as over 7,000 last month.
However, health authorities are still keeping their guard up due to the spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant of COVID-19, with concerns over a possible uptick around the Lunar New Year holiday period beginning later this month.
"The omicron variant is spreading quickly especially from last week and is on the verge of becoming the dominant variant as it accounted for 20 percent of domestic cases two days ago," Kim said during a COVID-19 response meeting. "I request people to restrain from their hometown visits and meetings with relatives and families during the Lunar New Year holiday period."
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), most of the current restrictions other than the four-person cap on private gatherings will be maintained. Toughened social distancing rules have been in place since mid-December.
The COVID-19 vaccine pass system will also be in place, which is required to enter restaurants, cafes and other major indoor multipurpose facilities.
The new distancing rules to be in place from Monday through Feb. 6.
The government also decided to run a special quarantine period between Jan. 20 and Feb. 2, and implement extra antivirus steps to prevent the virus from spreading during the holiday.
Face-to-face meetings at nursing facilities will be banned, and non-contact meetings will be allowed only after prior reservations.
Train tickets will only be sold for window seats, and ferries are highly advised to limit passengers to 50 percent capacity.
Dining at highway service areas will be banned, the KDCA said, adding that temporary COVID-19 testing stations will be set up at nine highway rest areas across the country.
Indoor memorial venues will be partially shut down, and the government will support online mourning services.
The government also vowed to strengthen on-site inspections of major public facilities to better enforce thorough quarantine steps.
As the tightened distancing rules have been extended again, Kim said the government will draw up a supplementary budget to help small merchants and self-employed people.
"We will swiftly prepare the extra budget plan and submit it to the National Assembly before the Lunar New Year holiday," he said. "I ask the National Assembly to review and handle it quickly considering small merchants and self-employed people's desperate situation." (Yonhap)