S. Korea likely to maintain virus curbs while loosening business restrictions

January 15, 2021

South Korean health authorities are expected to maintain the current social distancing level, including keeping the current ban on gatherings of five or more people, officials said Friday.

The authorities are set to announce on Saturday whether to continue the so-called Level 2.5 social distancing, the second highest in the country’s five-tier scheme, in the greater Seoul area.

It is highly likely that Level 2.5 will continue for another two weeks, despite an apparent slowdown in infections, the officials said.

The number of new coronavirus cases in South Korea stayed in the 500s for the fourth consecutive day Friday, in a sign that the third wave of the pandemic has slowed down.

Health authorities, however, are expected ease restrictions on the so-called high-risk facilities, including gyms, cafes and cram schools, amid concerns over the impact on business.

Indoor gyms in the capital area have been forced to close since early December when the government raised the social distancing scheme.

Coffee shops in the capital area have also been banned from offering dine-in services. Business owners have been trying to survive on delivery and takeout alone.

Under the new measure, dining inside of coffee shops until 9:00 p.m. is expected to be allowed, they said. Restaurants have so far been allowed to offer dining in until 9:00 p.m.

Business restriction on indoor gyms is also expected to be loosened by allowing one user per eight square meters, they said.

The authorities are also mulling over allowing business operation until 9:00 p.m., same as before the current measure was adopted.

However, the authorities are highly likely to rule out loosening business restrictions on karaoke rooms as people are clustered in a single room, they said.

Indoor entertainment venues, such as clubs and poker pubs, are also expected to remain closed, they said.

To cope with the rising number of COVID-19 cases, Level 2.5 social has been placed since Dec. 8 in the capital area. The relatively moderate Level 2 social distancing policy has been implemented in other parts of the country.

A ban on gatherings of five or more people has been implemented in the greater Seoul area since Dec. 24 and other parts of the country from Jan. 4.