|People wearing face masks walk past a Christmas tree set up for a year-end festival featuring colorful lanterns at a shopping street in Seoul, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. AP|
Nightclubs and late-night dining will be banned in the greater Seoul area under toughened distancing guidelines, as authorities are scrambling to contain the recent coronavirus flare-up ahead of a nationwide college exam.
Health authorities raised the social distancing by one notch to Level 2 in the Seoul metropolitan area effective for two weeks starting Tuesday, only three days after enforcing Level 1.5 distancing in the nation's most populous region.
Level 2, the third-highest in the five-tier distancing scheme, comes as the country reported over 300 daily new COVID-19 patients in the last five days, with the capital region accounting for most of the cases.
Under Level 2, gatherings involving 100 or more people are banned, while nightclubs and other high-risk entertainment facilities must suspend their business.
Restaurants are allowed to serve food until 9 p.m., with only takeout and delivery services available afterward.
Indoor dining is not allowed in cafes throughout the day, and only takeout and delivery services are available.
Indoor sports facilities are required to halt their operations after 9 p.m., and public facilities will need to meet an admissions cap of 30 percent.
Sports events should have only 10 percent of their maximum capacity.
Under the strengthened measures, the attendance cap in the greater Seoul area is placed at one-third of students in kindergartens, primary schools and middle schools while the cap is placed at two-thirds of students in high schools.
One-third of all public servants and employees of public organizations and public companies will begin to work from home on Tuesday.
The latest measures are similar to distancing guidelines imposed from Aug. 30-Sept. 13 in the Seoul metropolitan area, following a sharp spike in new cases traced to mass demonstrations.
Health Minister Park Neunghoo on Sunday warned a third wave of virus outbreaks is in progress, calling for people to take extra precautions and avoid year-end gatherings of family and friends.
Health authorities said the tougher social distancing guidelines are inevitable to stop another wave of the pandemic, which could put a strain on daily lives and business activities, especially ahead of a nationwide college exam slated for Dec. 3.
As part of efforts to slow down the spread of the virus, the Seoul city government said it will carry out a rigorous antivirus campaign until the end of this year, which includes measures for reduced public transport at night and a ban on rallies involving 10 or more people.
The capital city with nearly 10 million citizens vowed to enforce stricter social distancing rules at 10 key facilities, such as nursing homes and restaurants.
The toughened virus rules also put the brakes on domestic travel and dining campaigns designed to spur the local economy.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said it is suspending the dining promotion campaign and discounts on rural travel due to the worsening virus outbreaks.
The state-run Korea Tourism Organization said it will stop issuing discount coupons for accommodations and travel, as well as subsidies for workers' vacation, under the Level 2 distancing. (Yonhap)