Seoul and its surroundings will close bars and nightclubs, limit religious gatherings, and restrict service at restaurants, in a bid to contain a mushrooming third wave of infections, the South Korean health minister said on Sunday.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 330 new daily coronavirus cases as of midnight on Saturday, a drop from 386 reported the day before but the fifth straight day of more than 300 new cases, reports Reuters.
“The third wave of outbreaks is increasingly in full swing,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo told a briefing. “The situation is extremely serious and grave.”
Clusters of infections in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area are driving a nationwide outbreak, he said.
From Tuesday, coffee shops in the Seoul area will only be able to offer takeaway and delivery service, while restaurants must close to dining after 9pm. Other restrictions will be placed on gyms, with attendance caps on religious gatherings and sporting events.
The tighter restrictions are aimed partly at allowing students to go ahead with highly competitive annual college entrance exams scheduled for December.
Earlier on Sunday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a government meeting that pre-emptive distancing regulations might be needed to head off a wider outbreak, Yonhap news agency reported.
“We’re at a critical juncture of facing a large number of infections nationwide,” Chung said.
On Saturday, a KDCA official said the country could be facing an outbreak that will overtake the two earlier waves of infections if it fails to block the current spread.
South Korea has been using an aggressive tracing, testing, and quarantine effort to stamp out outbreaks without imposing lockdowns. But the country has been plagued by a persistent number of small infections, bringing the total number of cases to 30,733 with 505 deaths.
Covid-19 resurgences are currently sweeping around the globe with Portugal and Algeria being two of the latest countries to reimpose strict countermeasures.