(ATTN: ADDS more info throughout; RECASTS headline and lead with government announcement)
SEOUL, Oct. 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Sunday decided to lower the tough virus curbs in place across the country since late August on due to the slowing number of new cases.
Under the decision, the country will ease the current Level 2 social distancing measures, the second-highest on a three-tier system, to Level 1 across the country, effective from Monday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said.
The country designated two weeks ending that day as a special period for an intensive antivirus campaign due to concerns that new virus cases may resurge after back-to-back holidays, including a three-day Chuseok fall harvest holiday.
The country imposed the current social distancing measures in late August as cases spiked following a holiday and a mass rally that took place in central Seoul.
"The average number of local infections fell to less than 60 on a daily basis over the past two weeks and the reproduction rate declined to 'below 1,' which led us to judge that the spread is being contained," the prime minister said during a meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters.
Chung said the government has decided to relax the social distancing measure considering the negative impact stronger measures have had on people's sentiment and the domestic economy.
Under the eased measures, gatherings of 50 or more people at 10 kinds of indoor facilities, such as karaoke rooms and gyms will be allowed, health authorities said. People still must follow antivirus measures such as wearing face masks and keeping entry logs.
The prime minister, however, said the government will selectively retain tougher measures, such as those against door-to-door sales.
Some measures will remain in place for the greater Seoul area where a fall in new cases has been relatively slow, Chung said, adding that seating arrangements based on social distancing will stay at cafes and restaurants.
Also, attendance caps at all schools nationwide will be eased to two thirds starting on Oct. 19, which will allow students to attend schools every day in regions other than the densely populated greater Seoul area.
The prime minister thanked the public for following anti-virus measures and urged them to always wear masks and refrain from group meetings and trips.
South Korea's new virus cases showed signs of slowing on the back of enhanced restrictions. But sporadic cluster infections and untraceable cases have continued to strain the country's virus fight.
The country added 58 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, increasing by double digits for the fourth straight day.
Of the newly identified local infections, 19 cases were reported in Seoul and 18 cases in Gyeonggi Province that surrounds the capital. Incheon, west of Seoul, reported one additional case.
With tightened social distancing imposed on the greater Seoul area for weeks, the daily number of new COVID-19 cases has been hovering around 100 since early September.
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