Seoul will raise its distancing measures to its highest level ever to counter surging Covid-19 numbers, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said in a briefing on Friday, with the Seoul Metropolitan Area to enter distancing level 4 for two weeks starting on Monday.
In South Korea’s four-tier social distancing system, level 4 is the strongest. The Seoul Metropolitan Area, with a population of 25 million people, had been under distancing level 2, which banned gathering of more than four people and dining in restaurants after 10 p.m.
The new measure will ban private gatherings of more than two people after 6 p.m., including in restaurants, in addition to current restrictions. Most public events, including exhibitions and rallies will be banned and weddings and funerals may only be attended by family members.
“Because this is the highest distancing measure, we have no place left to go,” Kim said, urging the public to refrain from gathering from Friday.
This applies to kindergarten, elementary, middle, and high schools as well as special-education schools.
South Korea reported 1,316 Covid-19 cases on Thursday, its largest single day increase yet, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA). Out of those, 1,236 of the cases were locally transmitted and 78% of them were found in the Seoul Metropolitan Area, KDCA said. In total, South Korea has reported 165,344 total cases and 2,036 deaths since the pandemic began.
KDCA Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong said on Thursday that the number of Delta variant infections is steadily increasing and there is a possibility that it will become the dominant strain in August.
“The cases are rising among people in their 20s and 30s who are more active, and tends to be asymptomatic or has only light symptoms,” Jeong said.
Sydney toughens lockdown
On the same day, Sydney announced it would strengthen its Covid-19 protection measures, as the spread of the Delta variant gathers pace in the city.
From Friday, people in Sydney can only shop for essentials, are not allowed to exercise in groups of more than two and may not leave a 10-kilometer radius from their homes unless necessary. The lockdown, which began on June 26 will run until at least July 16.
A total of 44 new Covid-19 cases were recorded in New South Wales in the 24 hours to 8 p.m. Thursday, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said at a press conference Friday.
Berejiklian said just 9% of people in New South Wales were fully vaccinated, under the national figure of 10.18% of people over the age of 16.
“Do not think that the New South Wales government thinks we can live with this (virus) when our rate of vaccination is only at 9%,” she said. “Because if we chose to live with this while the rates of vaccinations are at 9%, we will see thousands and thousands of hospitalizations and deaths.”
The number of people deemed close contacts of a Covid-19 case is now at 14,000, up from 7,000 on Thursday, according to NSW Chief Health Officer Dr. Kerry Chant.