9 p.m. curfew extends through Lunar New Year
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said in a Covid-19 response meeting Friday that the government will maintain most of the current social distancing measures from Monday through Feb. 6, which includes the Lunar New Year holiday early next month.
The slight easing of curbs on private gatherings came as health authorities determined they were not contributing much to the spread of the virus. The number of daily Covid-19 cases has hovered in the 4,000s in recent days after spiking over 7,000 last month.
"Although the indicators are improving somewhat, the number of confirmed cases has not decreased further since this week," Kim said, "and the Lunar New Year holiday, when nationwide travel and contact is expected, is two weeks away."
He continued, "The Omicron variant has spread more quickly especially since last week and is on the verge of becoming the dominant strain, accounting for 20 percent of confirmed domestic cases two days ago."
He added, "There are some optimists that say Omicron is a signal of the end of the pandemic, but this is only one possible scenario."
Kim encouraged people to refrain from visiting their hometowns and meeting with relatives over the Lunar New Year holiday, which runs from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2.
Most restrictions will be maintained through this period.
The government announced strengthened social distancing measures in mid-December after a sharp increase in coronavirus cases, limiting private gatherings to four vaccinated people nationwide.
It limited operating hours for restaurants and cafes to 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. for businesses and multi-purpose facilities considered to be at less risk, such as movie theaters, concert halls, internet cafes and hagwon (cram schools).
The vaccine pass system required for places like big supermarkets will remain in place.
The government said it will institute special measures between Jan. 20 and Feb. 2 to prevent the spread of the virus over the New Year holiday.
It will ban face-to-face meetings at nursing facilities, seating on trains will be limited and spaced out, ferries will be advised to cap passengers at 50 percent of capacity and indoor memorial venues for the Lunar New Year holiday will be partially shut down.
As in previous major holidays, dining at highway rest areas will be banned, while temporary Covid-19 test sites will be set up at nine highway rest stops.
Korea reported 4,542 new Covid-19 cases Friday, including 4,133 local infections, raising the total cases to 683,566, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
There were 49 more fatalities, raising the total death toll to 6,259.
However, the number of critically ill patients fell to 659, dipping below 700 for the first time in 45 days.
The number of imported cases hit a new daily record of 409 Friday.
The CES 2022 in Las Vegas which has infected dozens of Korean attendees has been confirmed as a super-spreader event. Health authorities said there were 119 Covid-19 cases linked to this annual tech trade show as of Thursday midnight.
The government has announced stricter measures for travelers entering the country, and starting next Thursday, people entering Korea must have taken a PCR test within 48 hours of the date of departure, and won't be able to take public transport from the airport to their quarantine location.
BY SARAH KIM [email@example.com]