S. Korea mulls raising social distancing level in greater Seoul area: PM
A street in the college district of Sinchon in Seoul is nearly empty on Sunday, after a series of coronavirus infections were reported at the nearby Yonsei and Sogang universities. (Yonhap)
Authorities are discussing whether to enforce tougher distancing regulations for the greater Seoul area and the southwestern region, the prime minister said Sunday, as the country fights a resurgence of the new coronavirus.
Chung Sye-kyun made the remark during a COVID-19 response government meeting, saying South Korea could face another wave of mass infections if it fails to stem the virus at this point.
"We're at a critical juncture of facing a large number of infections nationwide, as multiple new coronavirus cases have been reported simultaneously across the country," Chung said.
"The government will discuss today preemptively raising the distancing rules to Level 2 in the greater Seoul area and to Level 1.5 in the southwestern Jeolla provinces, not waiting until the number of new cases increases enough to fulfill the requirements to adjust the level."
Level 2 is the third highest of the country's five-tier COVID-19 alert system.
South Korea's daily caseload has stayed in the triple digits since Nov. 8, with the figure exceeding 300 for the fifth consecutive day on Sunday with 330 cases.
Chung said the country needs to review every possible measure, including the adjustment of the social distancing level, to curb the virus spread before the national college entrance exam and to prevent massive infections in the winter season.
The annual College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) is the largest academic event of the year, with more than 490,000 students set to take the exam simultaneously across the country. This year's CSAT is slated for Dec. 3.
South Korea already raised the distancing level by one notch to Level 1.5 in the metropolitan region on Thursday, but authorities have said they are seriously considering toughening the antivirus curbs as infections show no signs of a letup.
Under Level 2 of social distancing, operations of night clubs and bars are prohibited, while food and drinks can be served in restaurants until 9 p.m., with only takeout and delivery services available afterward. For coffee shops, only takeout and delivery services are allowed regardless of the operating hours.
Amid growing hopes over COVID-19 vaccines, the prime minister said the government will soon report to the public the progress in its vaccine purchase plan.
"Until vaccines are distributed, wearing masks is the best preventive measure," Chung said. "I again ask for watertight practice of (antivirus measures)." (Yonhap)