The South Korean government on Friday decided to extend by two more weeks level 4 social distancing, a measure that has been in place in the Seoul metropolitan region over the past two weeks. The measure will remain in effect from Monday to August 8. The government also warned of possible additional stern measures, including toughened rules on private gatherings and further restrictions to business hours, in the event that confirmed Covid-19 cases fail to taper off during the extended two-week period.
The latest measure reflects the gravity of the situation. As of 12 a.m. on Friday, Korea reported a total of 1,630 daily confirmed cases, the largest number ever for a Friday. The number was slightly down from Thursday (1,842), but if confirmed cases of soldiers from the Cheonghae Unit are excluded from Thursday’s, the new number rather represented an increase. The government suggested ‘less than 1,000 daily cases’ as the target for its two-week extension of the social distancing measure. This number is the level of cases for social distancing level 3. “If the public cooperate and exert efforts for the two weeks, we may be able to bring the number to below 1,000,” said Lee Ki-il, first control officer of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters.
On top of the extension of social distancing level 4, the government has also toughened quarantine measures for certain facilities. Sports activities including futsal and baseball conducted at private sports facilities have been subjected to the restrictions on private gatherings, with such activities effectively banned. As for exhibitions and expos, only people who make reservation in advance will be allowed to access. “We are barely surviving by making loans, and business hour restrictions are pushing us to the limit,” the Korean small business owners’ council said in a statement. “The government should significantly increase policy subsidies and compensations for damage incurred to small business owners, and speed up the process to pay such compensations.”
The problem is more serious in provincial regions. The number of confirmed cases in non-Seoul metropolitan regions jumped 10 percentage points over the past week from 25.0 percent on July 16 to 35.9 percent on Friday. Even so, the government has shelved the introduction of level 3 social distancing across all non-Seoul metropolitan regions. The government has decided to analyze epidemics situations during the weekend, and gather opinions from provincial and metropolitan city governments before making a decision at a meeting of the Central Disaster and Countermeasure Headquarters on Sunday. The Sunday meeting will be presided over by President Moon Jae-in.
People aged 55 – 59 will start to be vaccinated from Monday. People in the Seoul metropolitan region will get the Pfizer vaccine, while those in provincial regions will take the Moderna vaccine. For the Pfizer vaccine, the vaccination interval between the first and second shots has increased from three weeks to four weeks, which is a temporary measure that will remain in effect until end-August. “The government has decided to complete vaccination within six weeks to ensure convenience in vaccination schedules by reflecting vaccine supply to medical institutions,” said Kwon Joon-wook, second deputy chief of the Central Quarantine Headquarters.
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