SEOUL – South Korea on Saturday announced stronger social distancing restrictions for its greater capital area where a surge in COVID-19 cases has threatened to erase the hard-won gains against the virus.
The two-week measures starting Sunday will allow authorities in Seoul and towns in neighboring Gyeonggi Province to shut down high-risk facilities such as nightclubs, karaoke rooms, movie theaters and buffet restaurants if they fail to properly enforce preventive measures, including distancing, temperatures checks, keeping customer lists and requiring masks.
Fans will once again be banned from professional baseball and soccer, just a few weeks after health authorities allowed teams to let in spectators for a portion of their seats in each game.
Gatherings of more than 50 people will be discouraged. Churches will be advised to shift their services online.
Health Minister Park Neung-hoo revealed the measures hours after the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 166 newly confirmed cases, the highest daily jump in five months.
Park expressed concern that transmissions are getting out of control in the Seoul metropolitan areas, where health authorities have found it increasingly difficult to track infection routes.
“The current situation looks like an early stage of a massive round of transmissions,” Park said. “If we fail to properly control the spread now, a broader and quicker spread of the virus would spike the number of patients and reach nationwide.”
Officials have previously resisted calls to enforce stronger distancing measures, citing concerns for the fragile economy that policymakers say could possibly shrink for the first time in two decades.