Seoul: South Korea will slightly ease its coronavirus gathering restrictions starting next week, but will continue with a 9 p.m. curfew at restaurants and entertainment venues, as it braces for a potential rise in infections driven by the infectious Omicron variant.
Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said on Friday that the four-person limit in private social gatherings among fully vaccinated people would be increased to six for at least three weeks starting Monday.
While officials acknowledge frustration and fatigue with prolonged virus restrictions and damages on small businesses, they say they cannot further loosen social distancing rules at a time when the country is witnessing a spike of cases in the coming weeks. Could face a bigger wave as Omicron continues to spread.
About 12 percent of South Korea’s infections reported last week were of the Omicron type and officials say it could head to the country in a week or two. Kwon raised concerns that the spread could be accelerated by the Lunar New Year holiday break later this month, when millions of people travel across the country to visit relatives.
Kwon appealed to the people to stay at home during January 29-February. 2 Holidays and especially not visiting older relatives who have not been fully vaccinated. Visits to nursing homes will be banned during this period and officials will also limit the capacity of trains and ferries to discourage travel.
“Thanks to the active cooperation by our people, our medical response has greatly improved … but the growing spread of omicron poses a new threat to us,” Kwon said during a briefing. The Korea Agency for Disease Control and Prevention said the country could take its daily infection level to 30,000 by the end of February if it significantly eases social distancing.
Restaurants, coffee shops, gyms and karaoke venues will continue to close at 9 p.m. Adults asked to use restaurants, movie theaters, museums, shopping malls and other indoor locations to verify their vaccination status via apps Will go Most of these places only accept fully vaccinated adults, but restaurants and coffee shops are allowed to accept one adult in each group who is not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all. has gone.
Experts say the omicron, which has already become prominent in many countries, spreads more easily than other coronavirus strains. It also more easily infects people who have been vaccinated or who have previously been infected with earlier versions of the virus. However, early studies suggest that Omicron is less likely to cause serious disease than the delta version, and vaccination and booster shots still provide strong protection against serious illness, hospitalization, and death.
South Korea reported 4,542 new cases on Friday, with a record 409 linked to international arrivals. The daily count exceeded 7,000 several times last month during a Delta-driven surge, prompting a surge in hospitalizations and deaths, but transmissions have slowed in recent weeks as officials tighten social distancing.
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