Seoul to close bars, restrict restaurants and churches as cases spike
South Korea reports over 300 new cases for 5th straight day as minister warns third wave is in full swing
SEOUL: South Korea's capital city and nearby areas will close bars and nightclubs, limit religious gatherings, and restrict service at restaurants, in a bid to contain a burgeoning third wave of coronavirus infections, the health minister said yesterday.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 330 new daily coronavirus cases as of midnight on Saturday, a drop from 386 reported the day before, but the fifth straight day of more than 300 new cases.
"The third wave of Covid-19 outbreaks is increasingly in full swing," Health Minister Park Neung-hoo told a briefing.
"The situation is extremely serious and grave."
A nationwide outbreak was being driven by clusters of infections in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, he said, home to around half of the country's 52 million residents.
As of Tuesday, major coffee shops in the Seoul area will be required to offer only takeaway and delivery service, while restaurants must close to in-person dining after 9pm.
Other restrictions will be placed on facilities such as gyms, with attendance caps on religious gatherings and sporting events.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a government meeting that pre-emptive distancing regulations might be needed to head off a wider outbreak, Yonhap news agency reported.
"We're at a critical juncture of facing a large number of infections nationwide," Mr Chung said.
The tightened prevention guidelines are aimed partly at allowing students to go ahead with highly competitive annual college entrance exams scheduled for Dec 3.
South Korea has employed an aggressive tracing, testing, and quarantine effort to stamp down outbreaks without imposing lockdowns.
But the country has been dogged by a persistent number of small infections, bringing the total number of cases to 30,733 with 505 deaths.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government has exercised its new power to make testing compulsory, beginning with visitors to 14 dance premises after a cluster that started at a dance club in Wan Chai continues to grow.
Under the Prevention and Control of Disease (Compulsory Testing for Certain Persons) Regulation), any person who had been present at 14 specified dance premises during the period from Nov 1 to Saturday must undergo a Covid-19 nucleic acid test by tomorrow.
A total of 32 people have been confirmed to have the virus as part of the cluster that was traced to the Starlight Dance Club in Wan Chai, public broadcaster RTHK reported.
The 14 dance premises operated as party rooms, the government said.
Meanwhile, Japan may reimpose attendance limits for sports and other large events to curb a spike in infections, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said yesterday.
The limits would be applied in areas of the country seeing a sharp increase in cases, Mr Nishimura said.
The government imposed attendance limits earlier in the year but relaxed them in recent months. - REUTERS