Social distancing rules to be eased in greater Seoul

Sep 14, 2020, 08:23 am

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Health Minister Park Neung-hoo speaks at the Seoul government complex on Sept. 13, 2020./ Photographed by Lee Byung-hwa

AsiaToday reporter Yoon Seo-young

The South Korean government decided to scale down the level of social distancing in the wider Seoul area starting Monday until Sep. 27 since the country’s new virus cases stayed below 200 for 11th consecutive day Sunday while smaller merchants and self employed have been hardly hit by the so-called Level 2.5 social distancing scheme. As a result, a ban on operations will be lifted for eateries, coffee shops, midsize cram schools and indoor sports facilities.

However, the government will set the two weeks starting Sept. 28 as a special period for strong nationwide anti-virus efforts since the period includes Chuseok holiday.

“New virus cases, which once exceeded 300, slowed to the 60 range today,” said Health Minister Park Newng-hoo in a briefing in the Seoul government complex on Sunday. “This is interpreted as the result of stricter social distancing that has been placed in the greater Seoul area since Oct. 16. The decreasing trend is expected to continue for a while,” he said.

Despite concerns about sporadic cluster infections and untraceable cases, the government decided to relax business restrictions due to economic pains faced by smaller merchants and self-employed as well as ordinary people. Many have pointed out that stricter social distancing rules were threatening the livelihood of vulnerable groups. Previously, the government decided to provide a second round of emergency disaster relief money selectively to those in a poorer financial situation.

“As health authorities, we had a lot of thoughts on whether to ease or maintain social distancing rules, and we gathered opinions from all levels of society,” Park said. “The most important thing we had in mind is that the current social distancing rule was involving a very considerable sacrifice of self-employed as well as ordinary people,” he said.

As a result, the Seoul metropolitan area will be placed back under the Level 2 rules until Sept. 27. However, the government will apply strict quarantine steps at high-risk facilities.

Franchise coffee shops and bakeries will be permitted to allow customers to eat or drink inside the outlets, but they should limit the number of such people. Restaurants can allow customers to eat or drink inside after 9 p.m., but they should strictly manage entry logs of customers and install partitions on tables. 

Midsize cram schools and indoor sports facilities will be permitted to operate normally. However they should keep sanitary measures, such as wearing a facial mask. Internet cafes will be allowed to reopen across the nation. But they should ban the entry of teenagers and eating food inside and ensure that customers sit at a distance from one another. 

The Level 2 measures that have been already in place will continue. Indoor meetings of 50 or more people are prohibited. Outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people are banned. High-risk facilities including clubs will be closed. Churches will not be allowed to hold in-person activities. 

The government plans to stabilize the number of COVID-19 cases before Chuseok fall harvest holiday, set for early next month, while maintaining the Level 2 rules. In particular, the government will strengthen its anti-virus efforts for two weeks starting Sept. 28 in time for the Chuseok holiday. 

Meanwhile, the country registered 121 more COVID-19 cases as of Saturday midnight, taking the total number of cases to 22,176.

#social distancing #Level 2 #COVID-19 
Copyright by Asiatoday