SEOUL: South Korea has extended its social distancing curbs for two weeks to ward off a surge in coronavirus cases, while allowing vaccinated people some latitude, its prime minister said on Friday (Aug 20).
The country's fourth COVID-19 wave has shown few signs of abating six weeks after the toughest Level 4 distancing rules, which include a ban on gatherings of more than two people after 6pm.
South Korea reported 2,052 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday with 2,001 of which were locally acquired, Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) data showed.
As part of the extended restrictions, authorities will require restaurants and cafes in the metropolitan area to close an hour earlier at 9pm until Sep 5, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum told a COVID-19 response meeting.
In the same region, though previously only two people could gather after 6pm, one or two other fully vaccinated people can now join them, 14 days after their last shot, Kim said.
Restaurants and cafes have accounted for 30 per cent of recent cluster COVID-19 outbreaks, said Son Young-rae, a senior health ministry official.
Staff at high-risk facilities such as saunas, indoor gyms, karaoke bars and private academies will have to take biweekly polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, the health ministry said.
These incentives have been put in place to encourage vaccinations and to boost the economy, especially businesses such as restaurants and cafes that have been hit hardest by prolonged measures.
South Korea has given 48.3 per cent of its 52 million population at least one vaccine dose, and 21.6 per cent are fully vaccinated. It aims to fully immunise 70 per cent by October.
Helped largely by vaccinating the elderly and the vulnerable, the country has not seen a significant increase in COVID-19 deaths, with a mortality rate of 0.94 per cent, but the number of severe and critical cases have been on the rise, reaching 385 as of Thursday.
The KDCA has registered a total of 232,859 infections since the pandemic started, with 2,197 deaths.