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(2nd LD) Gathering limit to rise to 10 people for Seoul under 'living with COVID-19' scheme

All News 15:21 October 29, 2021

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By Joo Kyung-don and Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, Oct. 29 (Yonhap) -- The government said Friday it will raise the private gathering limit to 10 people for the greater Seoul area and scrap business curfews on all multi-use facilities, except nightlife establishments, for four weeks starting next week under a "living with COVID-19" scheme.

A "vaccine pass" system, which requires visitors to have a vaccination certificate or negative test result, will be also introduced with a grace period for entry into nightlife establishments, such as bars and nightclubs, and indoor sports facilities.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum announced the measures at a COVID-19 response meeting which discussed a final draft roadmap suggested by a government-private committee that aims to gradually bring people's lives back to normal.

The committee, which includes 30 experts from the private sector, earlier this week unveiled the roadmap for the country to gradually phase out coronavirus restrictions as more than 70 percent of the population have been fully vaccinated.

This photo taken Oct. 25, 2021, shows a crowded street in Hongdae, western Seoul. (Yonhap)

The three-phase scheme aims to first lift operation hour curfews on businesses, then allow large events to resume, before eventually lifting the ceiling for private gatherings to help ease pandemic-driven burdens and restore people's normal daily lives.

"Starting Nov. 1, our community takes the first step toward recovery of people's daily lives," Kim said during the meeting. "But we must be aware that this is not the end in our virus fight but a new beginning."

The first phase will begin Monday for four weeks, under which people will be allowed to gather in groups of up to 10 in the greater Seoul area and up to 12 in other areas, regardless of vaccination. Basic preventive measures like wearing masks indoors will stay in effect.

Currently, the ceiling on private gatherings is eight people in Seoul and its surrounding areas, provided that four of them are fully vaccinated. A maximum of 10 people, including six fully vaccinated, are allowed to gather in other regions.

However, if people are to gather at restaurants or cafes where they have to take off masks for eating and drinking, up to four unvaccinated people are allowed to join their meeting.

Operation hour curfews on businesses will be fully lifted, except for nightlife establishments. Currently, cafes and restaurants in the greater Seoul area -- home to about half of the country's population of 52 million -- are allowed to operate until 10 p.m., while in the other parts of the country they are allowed until midnight.

In the first phase, large demonstrations and events will be permitted with audiences up to 499, provided they are all vaccinated.

Over the second and third phases, gathering limits will be completely lifted, a move that will bring back large concerts and parties.

The "vaccine pass" system will be introduced for high-risk facilities, including bars, nightclubs, indoor gyms, karaoke establishments, nursing homes and public baths, with a grace period of one or two weeks, so that businesses can adapt to the new measure without confusion.

Health authorities will comprehensively assess the virus situation before moving to the second phase, which focuses on allowing large-scale events, like concerts and lifting curfews on nightlife establishments.

About 73 percent of the country's 52-million population had been fully vaccinated as of Thursday, with nearly 80 percent having received their first vaccine shots, according to health authorities.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum speaks at a COVID-19 response meeting in Ulsan, some 415 kilometers south of Seoul, on Oct. 29, 2021. (Yonhap)

kdon@yna.co.kr
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