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PM instructs changes to virus distancing rules to address negative opinions

All News 10:46 February 04, 2021

SEOUL, Feb. 4 (Yonhap) -- Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Thursday instructed officials to revamp the nation's social distancing scheme against COVID-19 once again to allow better public receptiveness, citing negative opinions toward its coercive aspects.

In an interagency meeting on the COVID-19 response held at the government complex in Seoul, Chung told authorities to reorganize the current distancing rules under the assumption that "the public is involved" in the process.

South Korea first adopted a three-tier national distancing scheme against the pandemic in June of last year and later expanded it into a five-tier system that also allowed region-specific measures in November.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun (2nd from R) arrives at a meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters about measures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus at the government complex in Seoul on Feb. 4, 2021. (Yonhap)

The government on Sunday decided to extend tougher social distancing measures -- the second-highest Level 2.5 for the greater Seoul area and the third-highest Level 2 for other regions -- for another two weeks, as it is wary of a pileup in cluster infections ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, which falls on Feb. 11-13.

Under the Level 2.5 rules in place since early December, restaurants, cafes, fitness clubs, karaoke rooms, cram schools and other small merchants have been forced to close or reduce operation hours to contain the virus.

The extension, aimed at helping the country smoothly begin COVID-19 vaccinations later this month and start the school spring semester in March, however, has drawn strong protest from the merchants hit hard by prolonged restrictions.

"We must create distancing guidelines together with the public as opposed to presenting unilateral rules for the people," Chung said, citing a recent survey showing that public opinion was sharply divided over whether they see the current state-mandated distancing rules as fair.

Chung asked authorities to proactively embrace reasonable recommendations from each business field by closely listening to requests.

The prime minister also stressed the need to preemptively cut off broad community transmission of COVID-19 variants originating from overseas.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Wednesday identified five more cases of contagious variants of COVID-19 -- four of the variant originating from Britain and one of the variant from South Africa -- raising the total caseload to 39.

Financially strapped small business operators call for the government to ease social distancing rules in front of a convention center in Seoul on Feb. 2, 2021, where an open debate, organized by the interior ministry, took place to work out more efficient social distancing rules against the pandemic. (Yonhap)


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