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(2nd LD) S. Korea to extend toughened social distancing rules for 2 weeks: PM

All News 14:55 October 01, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 4, 6-9)
By Chang Dong-woo

SEOUL, Oct. 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will maintain toughened social distancing rules across the nation for two more weeks, the prime minister said Friday, as the country is bracing for a potential surge in new COVID-19 cases ahead of back-to-back extended weekends.

Under the renewed plan that will go into effect Monday, the greater Seoul area will remain under the toughest social distancing of Level 4, while the rest of the country will be under Level 3, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said during an interagency meeting on the government's coronavirus response.

Cafes and restaurants in the capital area will be allowed to operate until 10 p.m. and social gatherings of up to six people will be allowed in the capital area after 6 p.m. if four of them are fully vaccinated.

The greater Seoul area has been placed under the toughest social distancing rules for 14 straight weeks, and other parts of the country for 12 weeks.

Kim, however, said rules for weddings, first birthday parties and outdoor sports facilities will be partly revised based around fully vaccinated people amid continued complaints over gathering restrictions.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum arrives at an interagency meeting on the government's coronavirus response at the government office complex in Seoul on Oct. 1, 2021. (Yonhap)

Under the renewed rules, a total of 99 people, which include at least 50 fully vaccinated people, can participate in weddings, health authorities said. Up to 199 guests, including at least 100 fully vaccinated people, can be invited to weddings when food and beverages are not served.

Also, up to 49 people can be invited to first birthday parties when guests include fully vaccinated people, they said.

People can also gather for outdoor sports events when fully vaccinated people are included, they said.

For instance, up to 27 people can be allowed at baseball games, as 18 people is the minimum requirement, the authorities said. At least nine people should be fully vaccinated.

The aftermath of last week's Chuseok fall harvest holiday has worsened the country's fourth wave of the pandemic, with daily cases remaining over 1,000 for the last 86 days despite strengthened virus curbs to slow down the nationwide spread.

Health authorities have expressed concerns about another surge in new cases as two back-to-back extended weekends will likely lead to more travel and fuel even a greater spread of the virus. National Foundation Day (Oct. 3) and Hangeul Day (Oct. 9), which both fall on Sundays this year, will be observed on the following respective Mondays.

In light of the prolonged pandemic, the government is moving toward adopting a scheme, called "With Corona," under which COVID-19 is treated as an infectious respiratory disease like the seasonal influenza, with eased distancing being implemented.

Kim said authorities are seeking to loosen social distancing rules in a "phased and gradual" order, adding "full-fledged preparations will begin when the rate of fully vaccinated people surpasses 70 percent later this month."

The government will also launch a joint private-government committee dedicated to providing support related to the recovery of average, everyday life from the pandemic, according to Kim. He added authorities will produce a roadmap with an execution plan aimed at the recovery of everyday life by collecting various public opinions.

Families and groups of people enjoy picnicing under government-mandated social distancing guidelines at a park on the banks of the Han River in Yeouido, western Seoul, in the Sept. 12, 2021, file photo. (Yonhap)


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