S. Korea Restricts Restaurant Hours, Gatherings as Virus Spreads

South Korea is imposing stricter social distancing measures, including limiting restaurant hours and social gatherings, as a surge in coronavirus cases threatens to undermine earlier efforts to contain the pandemic.

The country’s social distancing alert level was raised to 2 from 1.5 for the greater Seoul area, effective Nov. 24. That will lead to a ban in gatherings in high-risk facilities such as night clubs and karaoke bars, while restaurants are prohibited from serving customers after 9 p.m. and can only operate takeouts and deliveries.

The latest up-tick comes just four days after South Korea raised the social distancing level to 1.5 from 1 in the greater Seoul area, limiting spectator capacity at sports events and banning concerts and other public events with more than 100 people. The country last raised the alert level to 2 after a virus surge in August.

“The virus is rapidly spreading across communities in our greater Seoul areas and the nationwide transmission is under way,” Park Neunghoo, minister of health and welfare, said in a briefing on Sunday. “Given the severity of the situation and the time required for imposing stricter restrictions, there’s no reason for us to wait for the social-distancing criteria to be met in the coming days.”

On Friday, a health ministry official said the country was in the midst of a “third wave.” South Korea had been held up as a model for managing the virus spread without having to lock down or impose draconian measures after quelling two previous severe outbreaks in February and August.

South Korea confirmed 330 new cases on Sunday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. Total deaths rose by two to 505.

In an effort to slow down the spread, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Friday urged citizens tostay home and cancel gatherings, and told companies to encourage employees to work from home.

Government officials have been particularly concerned with the virus surge derailing the annualcollege entrance exam day scheduled early next month. The exam is considered one of the most important days in South Korea where flights are banned during examination time and police escort students who are running late.

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