South Korea will prohibit private social gatherings of five or more people and shut down ski resorts and major tourist spots nationwide starting from Christmas Eve as it contends with surging coronavirus infections
The restrictions revealed by Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Tuesday widen similar plans announced by authorities in the Seoul metropolitan area to a national level and are the most serious step the government has taken so far to reinstate social distancing after months of complacency.
Chung said the measures will be in place at least until Jan. 3.
The capital area has been at the center of a viral resurgence in past weeks that has overwhelmed hospitals and increased death tolls and raised questions to how the government is handling the outbreak.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Tuesday reported another new 869 infections, mostly from the capital area, which brought the country’s caseload to 51,460. Forty-eight COVID-19 patients have died in the past 48 hours, the deadliest two days since the emergence of the pandemic. The death toll could rise as the agency said 281 among 14,810 active patients were in serious or critical condition.
The viral resurgence has put pressure on the government to raise social distancing restrictions to maximum levels, something policymakers have resisted for weeks out of economic concerns.
Visitors will also be prohibited at nursing homes and long-term care facilities, where residents and workers will be tested every one or two weeks. Churches and other religious facilities will be shut, and restaurants will face fines if they receive large groups and must maintain social distance between people dining there.
“It will be crucial to prevent the upcoming two holiday periods from triggering a further spread of COVID-19,” Chung said during a virus meeting, referring to Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Around 180 skiing, sledding and skating venues around the country will be closed, which officials saw as necessary following a series of outbreaks as winter sports venues in recent weeks. National parks and coastal tourist spots, where thousands travel to every year to watch the sun rise on the new year, will close. Hotels will be banned from selling more than 50% of their rooms.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— The spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney’s northern beach suburbs appeared to continue to slow on Tuesday, raising hopes that a lockdown will be eased by Christmas. Only eight new infections were reported in the latest 24-hour period, New South Wales state authorities said. State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she would announce on Wednesday whether a lockdown of more than 250,000 people in the northern beaches that has been in force since Saturday would be eased. She said while the numbers were lower, more places have been identified with ties to cases. Previously, cases had centered on two live music venues. One new case, however, was a nurse involved in transferring infected arrivals from the airport.