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(LEAD) S. Korea to ease virus curbs in greater Seoul for next two weeks

All News 16:08 September 13, 2020

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES paras 2-6 with PM's remarks)

SEOUL, Sept. 13 (Yonhap) -- South Korea decided on Sunday to slightly ease anti-virus curbs in the greater Seoul area for the next two weeks, as the impact of the latest restrictions are showing results, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said.

Since late last month, the country has imposed the so-called Level 2.5 social distancing scheme in Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and Incheon, home to half of the country's 51.6 million population, restricting operations of eateries, franchise coffee chains and bakeries.

Starting Monday, the capital area will be placed under the Level 2 rules in the three-tier system.

Under the Level 2 scheme, South Koreans are allowed to maintain most of their daily routines, but outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people are banned. Sports events are allowed without spectators, and indoor meetings of 50 or more people are also prohibited.

"After a comprehensive review of the current situation and experts' opinions, the government decided to relax social distancing for the metropolitan area to Level 2 for two weeks," Chung said at a pan-government meeting on COVID-19 response. "We took into consideration the social fatigue, as well as the results of the strict disease prevention measures."

But he said the government will set the two weeks starting Sept. 28 as a special period for strong nationwide anti-virus efforts since early October is expected to be "the biggest challenge" against the efforts in the second half of the year.

The period includes the extended five-day Chuseok fall harvest holiday and the Oct. 9 Hangeul Day, a national holiday for commemorating the proclamation of the Korean alphabet by King Sejong of the Joseon Dynasty in 1446.

This photo, taken Sept. 7, 2020, shows an empty franchise bakery in Seoul as the government has limited franchise coffee chains, bakeries and ice cream shops to offering takeout and delivery over the COVID-19 outbreak. (Yonhap)

After the country kept new virus cases under 100 for months, it has seen daily infections grow by triple-digit figures since Aug. 14 due mainly to cases tied to a church and a political rally.

New COVID-19 cases fell below 200 for the 11th straight day Sunday on the back of stricter social distancing guidelines. But daily infections are not on a markedly downward trend.

Under the Level 2.5 measures, restaurants and smaller eateries can operate until 9 p.m., and only takeaway and delivery are permitted from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.

For franchise coffee chains, bakeries and ice cream parlors, only takeout and delivery are being permitted regardless of operating hours.

The country also suspended the operation of indoor sports facilities, including fitness centers and billiard halls, as well as cram schools accommodating more than 10 people.

Health authorities are struggling to bring new virus cases below 100 on concerns that virus cases may rebound after the upcoming Chuseok holiday.

But the prolonged virus curbs have heavily weighed down the livelihoods of small merchants and the self-employed.

On Sept. 4, the country also extended the current Level 2 measures imposed across the nation under a three-tier social distancing scheme for another two weeks until Sept. 20.

The government raised the antivirus curbs to Level 2 in the greater Seoul area on Aug. 16 and expanded them across the nation a week later.

The government has been cautious about raising antivirus steps to Level 3 as doing so has far-reaching social and economic impacts.

This file photo, taken Sept. 1, 2020, shows a restaurant in central Seoul where almost no customers were found during lunch time. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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