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South Korea expands ban on small gatherings to blunt coronavirus surge

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    Reuters

Seoul, South Korea   /   Sat, January 2, 2021   /   02:45 pm
South Korea expands ban on small gatherings to blunt coronavirus surge Students and staff queue to receive a test for COVID-19 at a high school in Sejong city, south of Seoul on Friday. (AFP/Yonhap)

South Korea will expand a ban on private gatherings larger than four people to include the whole country, and extend unprecedented social distancing rules in Seoul and neighbouring areas until Jan. 17, the health minister said on Saturday.

Kwon Deok-cheol told a briefing that the measures were necessary to reduce a prolonged surge in infections that has led to a spike in deaths.

The country reported 824 new cases as of midnight on Friday, down from 1,029 a day before, a drop that officials said was likely due to less testing over the New Year holiday.

As much as 40 percent of recent cases have been linked to small gatherings, Kwon said. The ban on such gatherings had been imposed in Seoul and neighbouring areas before the Christmas holiday and had been due to expire on Sunday.

The country also has restrictions on churches, restaurants, cafes, ski resorts, and other venues.

Kwon apologised to citizens for having to maintain the rules, but thanked them for their "solidarity and cooperation."

Given plans to begin vaccinations in February, the next few months will be the "last hurdle", he said.

After initial success in subduing earlier waves of infections, South Korea has struggled to reduce this latest and largest surge, with daily cases hovering around 1,000 for weeks.

Meanwhile in Japan, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government will request the central government to declare a new state of emergency over a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Saturday.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is set to meet Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura on Saturday afternoon to make the request, Nikkei said, citing multiple sources.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has resisted calls to reinstate a state of emergency, which the government instituted in April during an earlier wave of the pandemic.

New COVID-19 infections in Tokyo hit a record 1,337 on Dec. 31