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Toughest social distancing extended in greater Seoul

South Korea's daily new coronavirus cases fell under 1,800 on Friday as the country extended the toughest social distancing guidelines in the greater Seoul area through early October.

Seoul, 3 September 2021 (Yonhap/MIA) — South Korea’s daily new coronavirus cases fell under 1,800 on Friday as the country extended the toughest social distancing guidelines in the greater Seoul area through early October.

The country added 1,709 more Covid-19 cases, including 1,675 local infections, raising the total caseload to 257,110, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

It marked a slight drop from the 1,961 tallied Thursday. Daily cases have stayed above 1,000 for 59 consecutive days. The country added five more deaths from Covid-19, raising the death toll to 2,308, the KDCA said.

The fatality rate came to 0.9 percent. The number of patients with serious symptoms across the country reached 367, down four from the previous day.

As of 6 p.m., 1,494 new cases were reported across the country, according to health authorities and local governments. The tally was up 56 from the same time the previous day and up 46 from the same time a week earlier.

The greater Seoul area reported 1,064 new cases, accounting for 71.2 percent of the total, with 430 new cases reported in other areas.

South Korea said the existing distancing measures have helped the country contain any further spread of the virus to some extent, but the guidelines cannot be loosened due to the more contagious variants of Covid-19, including the delta strain.

Accordingly, health authorities decided to maintain the current social distancing measures — Level 4 in the capital area and Level 3 in other regions — through Oct. 3 to brace for Chuseok, the Korean equivalent of Thanksgiving, which runs from Sept. 18-22.

Regional governments can also adopt their own Level 4 guidelines, depending on their local situations.

Some of the restrictions, however, will be lifted, according to the government. While South Korea has been banning gatherings of more than four people nationwide, health authorities said it has decided to allow gatherings of up to six in the capital area, although they should include at least two vaccinated people during the daytime and four after 6 p.m. Gatherings of up to eight participants will be allowed over Chuseok as well.

Areas under Level 3 can also have gatherings of eight, if they include at least four fully vaccinated people. Other updated measures include allowing restaurants and bars in the greater Seoul area to operate until 10 p.m. from the current restriction of 9 p.m.

Train operators will be only allowed to sell window seats over the holiday. “We have decided to adjust social distancing guidelines to maintain both antivirus efforts and the economy,” Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said during a daily briefing. “We plan to announce social distancing rules that can further normalize everyday lives in October.”

“Before the effect of the inoculation program kicks in, we need to maintain social distancing and follow antivirus rules to curb further infections,” Kwon added.

Health authorities said South Korea’s daily new virus cases are expected to reach a peak of 2,300 through Sept. 23, before falling gradually.

The KDCA, meanwhile, said it has found three cases of the ‘mu’ COVID-19 variant here from arrivals from Mexico, the United States and Colombia.

South Korea has been raising its guard against variant cases and plans to order arrivals from Peru and Chile to go through a seven-day quarantine at designated facilities amid the looming spread of the lambda Covid-19 variant, starting Sept. 10.

“We still need to monitor the infection and fatality rate of the mu variant,” an official from the KDCA said.

A total of 29.6 million people, or 57.7 percent of the population, have received their first shots of Covid-19 vaccines, and 16.7 million people, or 32.7 percent, have been fully vaccinated, the KDCA said.

The country plans to provide at least one jab to 70 percent of the population by the end of September to create herd immunity in November.

South Korea’s inoculation program has recently been challenged by a delayed supply of shots. Health authorities, however, claim the country is expected to reach the target on time, pointing out an additional batch of 905,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine will arrive here Friday.

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