From Tuesday, cafes and restaurants in regions other than the Seoul metropolitan region are allowed to operate until 10 p.m. everyday. Sports facilities including fitness centers and billiard halls and noraebang (karaoke) bars can also continue operation until 10 p.m. Owners of shops in the Seoul metropolitan region that have been excluded from the extension of business hours are keeping their shops open and push to continue operation in protest against the restriction.
According to the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters on Sunday, the extension of business hours will take effect for about 580,000 facilities in 14 metropolitan cities and provinces, excluding the Greater Seoul region. However, the social distancing levels (2.5 in the Seoul metropolitan region, and 2 in other regions) will remain in effect through the seollal (Lunar New Year’s Day) holiday (February 11 – 14). The ban on private gatherings of five or more people will also remain in effect. The government judges that if social distancing is eased ahead of the seollal holiday when many people will be on the move, people are feared to go easy on the COVID-19 risk. The government will also implement “one-strike out” policy in which a first-time violator will be levied a two-week ban on gathering, on top of fines.
While the pace of decline in confirmed cases has been slowing, the introduction of variants is on the rise. According to the quarantine authority, as many as 12 cases of variant COVID-19 infection were confirmed on Saturday alone. The number of people infected with variants in Korea has increased to 51. Ahead of vaccination that will start late this month, there is growing fear over a possible fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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