SEOUL (SOUTH KOREA) – South Korea is gearing up to expand a ban across the country on private gatherings larger than four people and extend unprecedented social distancing rules in Seoul and neighbouring areas until Jan. 17, the health minister Kwon Deok-cheol informed on Saturday. The country already has restrictions on churches, restaurants, cafes, ski resorts, and other venues.
The health minister told a briefing that the measures were necessary to reduce a prolonged surge in infections that has led to a spike in deaths.
He apologised to citizens for having to maintain the rules, but thanked them for their “solidarity and cooperation.”
Given plans to begin vaccinations in February, the next few months will be the “last hurdle”, he said.
As much as 40% of recent cases have been linked to small gatherings, Kwon said. The ban on such gatherings had been imposed in Seoul and neighbouring areas before the Christmas holiday and had been due to expire on Sunday.
South Korea reported 824 new cases as of midnight on Friday, down from 1,029 a day before, a drop that officials said was likely due to less testing over the New Year holiday.