Greater Seoul goes up to Level 1.5

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Greater Seoul goes up to Level 1.5

Chairs and tables are stacked up at a corner of a Starbucks coffee shop in Seoul Tuesday, as the central government warned the greater Seoul area will be subject to Level 1.5 restrictions within a week. [NEWS1]

Chairs and tables are stacked up at a corner of a Starbucks coffee shop in Seoul Tuesday, as the central government warned the greater Seoul area will be subject to Level 1.5 restrictions within a week. [NEWS1]

Central health authorities Tuesday raised the social distancing level for the greater Seoul area by a notch to Level 1.5, as daily coronavirus cases surpassed 200 for the fourth day in a row.
 
The greater Seoul area, also known as the Seoul metropolitan area, encompasses Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi. Level 1.5 restrictions will go into effect Wednesday midnight in Seoul and Gyeonggi, and on Nov. 22 midnight in Incheon, officials said.
 
Korea added 230 coronavirus cases nationwide Monday, the highest increase in over two months. Daily cases have been steadily climbing since last Thursday, when 191 people were diagnosed, followed by 205 Friday, 208 Saturday and 223 Sunday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
 
It was the first time the central government officially classified an area as Level 1.5 since the new five-tier social distancing scheme replaced the old three-tier system on Nov. 7. That official designation came two days after health authorities issued a preliminary warning for the greater Seoul area, saying it was time to “seriously review” an upgrade.
 
A preliminary warning is normally issued by the central government when a region meets at least 80 percent of the government’s key criterion to be raised to the next social distancing level, which is the number of new patients per day on average over the past seven days.
 
For the greater Seoul area to be upgraded from Level 1 to Level 1.5, there must be an average of 100 patients or above in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi combined per day over the previous seven days. Health authorities Tuesday said the threshold was finally reached after adding Monday’s new cases. Over the past week, an average 111.3 people tested positive per day in the greater Seoul area.
 
But about 96 percent of the greater Seoul area’s infections during the past week were from Seoul and Gyeonggi, which is why authorities, at one point, considered leaving Incheon out of the Level 1.5 restrictions. Officials Tuesday said they eventually came to the conclusion to include the city because people in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi often travel within the area for work or personal business.
 
Incheon, however, will be subject to slightly looser restrictions in Level 1.5, the central government said.
 
Gangwon, which has also seen a bump in coronavirus cases lately, was slapped with a preliminary warning last Sunday as well, even after it surpassed the central government’s key criterion to be elevated to Level 1.5. But health authorities Tuesday said it wasn’t immediately going to designate the northeastern province a Level 1.5, and would leave it up to the Gangwon provincial government to decide.
 
Gangwon officials, on their part, said Tuesday they were going to wait a couple more days to monitor the situation, because most infections were coming from very few areas within the province, while others were seeing zero cases.
 
 
The central government decides social distancing levels for each region of the nation, but local government offices have some discretion to adjust their levels after consultation with central health authorities, which is what some cities have done so far to raise themselves to Level 1.5 measures, including Cheonan and Asan in South Chungcheong; Wonju in Gangwon; Suncheon, Gwangyang and Yeosu in South Jeolla; and most recently, Gwangju. Gwangju's Level 1.5 restrictions go into effect Wednesday midnight.
 
Other than these self-imposed cities and the greater Seoul area, the rest of the country remains at Level 1.
 
In a cabinet meeting Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in pleaded with the public to follow the new Level 1.5 restrictions, saying the coronavirus was silently spreading throughout society. Moon said his administration was going to use all its resources to hold the upcoming College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) as safely as possible on Dec. 3.
 
Under Level 1.5 restrictions, dancing and table-hopping are strictly forbidden in clubs and other nightlife businesses, and promotional events by door-to-door sales companies have to close after 9 p.m.
 
Eating is not allowed in noraebang (singing rooms), and after each customer leaves a booth, the room has to be immediately disinfected and left empty for at least half an hour.
 
The following businesses must take additional measures to prevent the spread of the virus such as putting up dividers, spacing out customers by leaving every other seat or table empty, or capping the number of people allowed entry at a time: Noraebang, clubs, bars, restaurants, cafes, wedding halls, funeral halls, public bathhouses, arcades, hagwon (private cram schools), hair salons, indoor gyms, amusement parks, water parks, movie theaters, internet cafes, international conferences and exhibitions.
 
Any large gatherings involving more than 500 participants must be reported to a local government office for approval. Political rallies, concerts, festivals and academic conventions cannot have more than 99 people.
 
The number of spectators at professional sports games will be capped at 30 percent of seating capacity, and everyone must wear a face mask at all times. Houses of worship will also be capped at 30 percent capacity, and any after-service prayer group meetings and eating will be prohibited.
 
All schools will have to run at two-thirds or less of capacity, which means other students will stay home for remote learning.
 
Aside from these Level 1.5 restrictions, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday it extended its special advisory on traveling overseas by another month until Dec. 17, essentially recommending Koreans to refrain from going abroad in fear of contracting the virus.
 
Of Monday’s nationwide 230 coronavirus cases, 202 were local infections: 87 in Seoul, 38 in Gyeonggi, 18 in Gwangju, 16 in South Jeolla, 13 in Gangwon, 12 in Incheon, nine in South Chungcheong, three each in North Gyeongsang and South Gyeongsang, two in Daegu and one in Daejeon.
 
Among the 28 imported cases, 11 were from the United States, eight from Russia, two from Bangladesh and one each from the Philippines, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, Sweden and Mexico.
 
No patients died Monday, leaving total deaths at 494, while 101 patients recovered, raising total recoveries to 25,860. As of Monday at midnight, Korea had counted 28,998 coronavirus cases in all.
 
While no big Covid-19 clusters have emerged in recent weeks, sporadic cases popping up all over the country have been leading to chains of infections, penetrating social groups, hospitals and nursing homes.
 
BY LEE SUNG-EUN   [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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