South Korea raises Covid restrictions to highest level in Seoul

South Korea will raise coronavirus curbs to their highest level yet in the Seoul metropolitan area, prime minister Kim Boo-kyum said on Friday, warning that a record rise in new cases had reached “maximum crisis level”.

The country had previously been held up as a model of how to combat the pandemic, with the public largely following social distancing and other rules, but it was slow to start its vaccine rollout due to supply shortages.

On Friday it recorded 1,316 cases, its highest daily rise since the pandemic began, with most new infections in the capital of Seoul and its surrounding areas, home to almost half the South Korean population.

Cluster infections have surfaced in areas including schools, offices and shopping malls, with people in their 20s and 30s – most of whom are not yet eligible for vaccinations – driving up the numbers, according to health authorities.

Under the new restrictions, set to come into force on Monday and last for two weeks, gatherings of more than two people will be banned after 6pm and schools will be closed. Cafes and restaurants are allowed limited seating while dine-in services are prohibited after 10pm.

Entertainment establishments, including bars and clubs, will be shut and all public rallies are banned except for one-person protests.

A shortage in vaccine supplies has left 70% of the population still waiting for their first shot. The country’s caseload is now at 165,344, after adding more than 8,300 cases in July alone, while the death toll is 2,036.

Critics say the government made things worse by pushing for a premature easing of social distancing over economic concerns.

Agence France-Presse and Associated Press contributed to this report


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