(ATTN: UPDATES with details in paras 2, 7)
By Lee Haye-ah
SEOUL, Dec. 16 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will reduce the maximum private gathering size to four people nationwide and restore a 9 p.m. curfew on restaurant and cafe business hours, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said Thursday, as the government rolled back its "living with COVID-19" scheme amid surging infections.
Under the new measures, which will be in effect from Saturday until Jan. 2, the use of restaurants and cafes will be restricted to up to four vaccinated people per visit. Those who have not been vaccinated will be able to use the facilities alone or request take-out or delivery, Kim said.
Bars, nightclubs and other entertainment venues will also be subject to the 9 p.m. curfew while movie theaters, concert halls and internet cafes, however, will be able to operate until 10 p.m., Kim said during a meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters.
The differentiation is based on the extent to which masks can be worn and whether there is eating inside.
The measures represent a sharp reversal of the government's "living with COVID-19" scheme under which all business curfews were lifted while the cap on private gatherings was raised considerably before being lowered again to six in the capital area and eight elsewhere in the country as of last week.
The abrupt change comes as South Korea has seen a surge in coronavirus infections, along with the number of critical cases and COVID-19 deaths. Daily case numbers have been approaching the 8,000s, while the number of COVID-19 fatalities hit an all-time high of 94 on Tuesday.
Kim said the government will provide additional financial assistance to businesses amid the widened implementation of the "vaccine pass" system, which requires visitors to present proof of vaccination or a negative test result. The assistance will be on top of compensation for losses caused by the restricted business hours, and details will be announced later.
"We are putting all of our efforts into expanding our medical capacity and increasing vaccinations to overcome the virus crisis we are facing," Kim said.
"But for that, we need time, and in the meantime, we determined that we will be able to overcome this critical moment only if we quickly bring the spread under control through strong social distancing measures."
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