|The street near Yonsei University and Sogang University, which is usually bustling with young people, is quiet Sunday after the universities reported COVID-19 infections. / Yonhap|
By Jun Ji-hye
The government decided to raise the social distancing level in Seoul and surrounding areas by one notch to Level 2 beginning Tuesday, to prevent another wave of COVID-19 infections, as new daily cases are expected to continue surging in the coming weeks, according to Health and Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo, Sunday.
The government also decided to elevate the distancing scheme in Gwangju and North and South Jeolla provinces to Level 1.5 as these regions have seen a rapid increase in the number of virus patients.
These measures will be applied for two weeks until Dec. 7 at the earliest.
"The decision was made in consideration of the rapid spread of COVID-19 infections ahead of winter months," Park said during a media briefing after the government meeting on COVID-19 response.
The government's decision to enhance social distancing measures came only three days after it enforced tightened antivirus measures in the greater Seoul area for two weeks starting Thursday, by raising the distancing guidelines by one notch to Level 1.5 under its new five-tier scheme.
Health authorities said new daily cases here, which have been over 300 in recent days, are likely to exceed 600 in early December, noting that the third wave of COVID-19 is already in progress after the country saw similar situations in February-March and August-September.
Ahead of the meeting, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said, "The country would suffer more serious virus outbreaks if it fails to endure this ongoing crisis."
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), the country added 330 more COVID-19 infections for Saturday, raising the total caseload to 30,733.
The number of daily new cases has exceeded 300 for the fifth straight day, due mainly to continued sporadic infection clusters traced to schools, private educational institutes, hospitals, religious facilities and social gatherings across the country.
The KDCA said the number of locally transmitted infections among the 330 new cases stood at 302, accounting for 92 percent of the total. Of them, 219 were in the greater Seoul area that includes nearby Incheon and Gyeonggi Province.
The government raised the social distancing measures in the greater Seoul area, given that the average number of daily virus cases there was 188.7 in the past seven days.
The figure was still within the benchmark set by the authorities to impose Level 1.5 ― more than 100 cases in the greater Seoul area ― but the authorities hinted previously that the COVID-19 alert level in the region can be elevated to Level 2 if the daily average number there exceeds 200 in a one-week period.
The authorities also signaled that they could impose Level 2 rules on the entire country if the infections show no signs of letting up.
Under the Level 2 rules, some facilities with a high risk of infections such as nightclubs are ordered to suspend their operations, while gatherings and events of 100 or more people are banned.
Restaurants are allowed to serve food until 9 p.m., and only takeout and delivery services are available afterward.