Chanting and singing at concerts banned amid daily case rises and fears for the looming winter flu season
In South Korea, coronavirus measures starting on Thursday include keeping churches and sports events at a maximum of 30% of capacity, while school classrooms should be no more than two-thirds full. Photograph: Lee Jin-man/AP
South Korea has strengthened social distancing measures amid a rise in new coronavirus cases, with the country’s prime minister warning that action was needed to avoid a crisis with the arrival of the winter flu season.
The country has won widespread praise for preventing a serious Covid-19 outbreak through a combination of mass testing, vigorous track and tracing and isolation, coupled with social distancing and mask wearing.
But the decision to implement stricter rules on distancing comes after health authorities reported more than 200 new infections for the fourth day in a row on Tuesday.
The country added 230 more cases, raising the total to 28,999, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA). The death toll remained unchanged at 497, it added.
“Our anti-coronavirus efforts are facing a crisis, and the situation is particularly serious in the Seoul metropolitan area,” the prime minister, Chung Sye-kyun, told a meeting of senior health officials.
“Today’s decision will cause greater inconvenience in our daily lives. But we all know from experience that there will be an even bigger crisis if we don’t act now.”
Officials have identified clusters in offices, medical facilities and small gatherings in the densely populated greater Seoul area, which is home to around half of South Korea’s 52 million people.
The level 1.5 measures – the second lowest on a scale of five – will go into effect in the Seoul metropolitan area from Thursday, according to the Yonhap news agency.
While there will be no new restrictions on most daily activities, facilities considered at a higher risk of spreading the virus, such as bars, clubs, concert halls, must implement stricter measures, including putting greater distances between tables and installing partitions.
In addition, political rallies, concerts and festivals must have no more than 100 people in attendance, and chanting, singing and eating are banned.
Churches – which have been identified as the source of several large clustersthroughout the pandemic – and sports events must keep attendance to a maximum of 30% of capacity, while school classrooms should be no more than two-thirds full.
The KDCA warned that the pace of transmissions could accelerate in the run-up to the flu season, and identified year-end socialising and nationwide university entrance exams due to be held early next month as potential risk factors.