South Korea mulls stricter distancing as COVID-19 takes 'a very dangerous turn'

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Seoul
·2 min read

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea reported more than 200 new coronavirus cases for the third consecutive day on Monday, as the government mulls tightening social distancing to curb persistent outbreaks from offices, medical facilities and small gatherings.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) posted 223 cases as of Sunday midnight, marking the eighth straight day of triple-digit increases and the highest since early September.

Health authorities warned of re-strengthening distancing curbs which were relaxed about a month ago to the lowest levels, as small cluster infections continue to break out while the pandemic is raging around the globe.

Tighter curbs would ban public gatherings of 100 people or more, limit religious services and audiences at sporting events to 30% of capacity, and require high-risk facilities including clubs and karaoke bars to widen distance among guests.

"We are at a critical crossroads where we might have to readjust distancing," Health Minister Park Neung-hoo told a meeting.

"The current situation is taking a very dangerous turn considering the rising infections from daily lives and the unrelenting pace of the spread."

Of the new cases, 193 were locally transmitted and 30 imported, according to the KDCA. More than 66% of the domestic infections were from the densely populated greater Seoul area, where outbreaks continue to emerge from nursing homes, medical facilities and small businesses.

The daily tally brought the country's total infections to 28,769, with 494 deaths.

The defence ministry held a meeting of senior commanders and notched up distancing for troops and officers for the next two weeks and cut travel and entertainment events, after more than two dozen cases have recently been linked to a military welfare support facility and an air force unit.

The government also designated a special anti-virus period ahead of an annual national university entrance exam on Dec. 3, to ensure all students including COVID-19 patients can take it.

Starting Thursday, authorities will conduct stricter hygiene inspections on private academies and study cafes, while instructing in-person classes to be minimised from one week before the test.

President Moon Jae-in urged authorities and local governments on Saturday to step up supervision of safety measures, a day after revised guidelines took effect to allow fining people who fail to wear masks in public.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Michael Perry and Lincoln Feast)