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(LEAD) S. Korea lowers social distancing but remains on alert over potential resurgence

Welfare/Medicine 10:14 October 12, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS photo and more info in paras 5,11)

SEOUL, Oct. 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Monday began implementing the lowest level of its social distancing guidelines following a slowdown in new cases in recent weeks, but the country remains vigilant over a possible resurgence of COVID-19.

Under the decision, the country eased the previous Level 2 social distancing measures to Level 1 in the three-tier system across the country.

The measure comes as the number of daily new infections has mostly increased by double digits over the past two weeks, sharply down from triple-digit growth in late August following a holiday and a mass rally that took place in central Seoul.

People gather at a karaoke center in Hongdae, western Seoul, on Oct. 12, 2020. (Yonhap)

The government said it has decided to relax the social distancing measures considering the negative impact that stronger measures have had on people's sentiment and the domestic economy.

"We have returned to Level 1, though not completely, almost two months after Liberation Day (Aug. 15)," Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said in a regular government COVID-19 response meeting earlier in the day, urging the public to follow various measures.

The country first adopted the Level 2 distancing measures in Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province on Aug. 16 and Incheon on Aug. 19. It was expanded nationwide on Aug. 23.

Under the eased measure, operations of 10 kinds of high-risk facilities, such as karaoke centers, gyms, buffets and large cram schools with more than 300 registered students are allowed, health authorities said. People still must follow antivirus measures, such as wearing face masks and keeping entry logs.

Audiences of up to 30 percent of stadium capacity are allowed at sports matches, such as the professional soccer and baseball leagues, the authorities said.

The authorities, however, said they will selectively retain tougher measures, such as those against door-to-door sales.

Outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people are prohibited and indoor meetings of 50 or more were banned under the Level 2 distancing, but this rule is eased in the Level 1 scheme.

Restaurants such as buffets in the greater Seoul area are also expected to resume business later in the day.

In the greater Seoul area, the government still advises people to refrain from holding gatherings and mass events but does not ban them. If people are to hold events, like festivals, concerts and exhibitions, they have to follow new limits on guests and spacing. One person will be allowed per 4 square meters, according to the authorities.

Also, five kinds of nightlife establishments, such as night clubs, will be subject to the same rules and must break for one hour after three hours of business.

In-person worship services at churches are allowed in the greater Seoul area although they can only admit 30 percent of their seating capacity. Catering services and small group gatherings at churches are still banned under the eased guidelines.

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 97 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, increasing by double digits for the fifth straight day.

Students enter an elementary school in Seoul on Oct. 12, 2020. (Yonhap)

khj@yna.co.kr
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