South Korea is extending its social distancing curbs, which include a restaurant curfew and a ban on gatherings of more than four people, by two weeks until the end of the Chinese New Year holidays as new infection clusters emerge in the country.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun’s Sunday announcement dashed earlier expectations that the government would ease the rules from the current highest levels that have been in place since early December.
Health authorities decided to maintain the restrictions after a large outbreak emerged from missionary training schools across the country last week, reversing a recent downtrend in daily infections ahead of the Chinese New Year break, which begins on Feb 11.
“The third Covid-19 wave, which had temporarily slowed, is again threatening our daily lives following the group infections from the missionary institutes,” Chung said. “This decision was not easy.”
Vice Health Minister Kang Do-tae said the coronavirus was spreading not only among the missionary schools, to which 379 cases have been linked so far, but also at churches, hospitals and sports facilities.
“There is a danger that it might lead to a broader re-spread of the virus, and potentially another major wave where thousands of patients emerge within a short time,” Kang told a briefing.
But the government will “positively consider” easing the curbs, including the dining curfew, if the situation improves this week.
Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines will arrive in South Korea by mid-February via the global distribution scheme Covax.