South Korea expands ban on small gatherings to blunt COVID-19 surge

South Korea expands ban on small gatherings to blunt COVID-19 surge

A man reads a book while waiting in a line to undergo coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test at a coro
A man reads a book while waiting in a line to undergo coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test at a coronavirus testing site which is temporarily set up in front of a railway station on Christmas day in Seoul, South Korea, December 25, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/Files

SEOUL: South Korea will expand a ban on private gatherings larger than four people to include the whole country, and extend unprecedented social distancing rules in Seoul and neighbouring areas until Jan. 17, the health minister said on Saturday (Jan 2).

Kwon Deok-cheol told a briefing that the measures were necessary to reduce a prolonged surge in infections that has led to a spike in deaths.

The country reported 824 new cases as of midnight on Friday, down from 1,029 a day before, a drop that officials said was likely due to less testing over the New Year holiday.

READ: How South Korea's early COVID-19 success left it scrambling to contain a new wave

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As much as 40 per cent of recent cases have been linked to small gatherings, Kwon said. The ban on such gatherings had been imposed in Seoul and neighbouring areas before the Christmas holiday and had been due to expire on Sunday.

The country also has restrictions on churches, restaurants, cafes, ski resorts, and other venues.

Kwon apologised to citizens for having to maintain the rules, but thanked them for their "solidarity and cooperation."

Given plans to begin vaccinations in February, the next few months will be the "last hurdle", he said.

After initial success in subduing earlier waves of infections, South Korea has struggled to reduce this latest and largest surge, with daily cases hovering around 1,000 for weeks.

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Source: Reuters/rw

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