South Korea on Sunday raised the health alert in and around its capital, Seoul, to the second highest level due to a surge in novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases.
Health authorities had initially succeeded in containing the epidemic thanks to an aggressive testing and tracing strategy. However, new infections have spiked recently, exceeding 500 per day.
South Korean authorities on Sunday confirmed 631 new cases, the highest single-day figure in nine months. Most of the infections were detected in and around Seoul, the Korean disease control and prevention agency reported. Compared to many other countries, the figures may seem low, but they nevertheless spurred the authorities into tightening restrictions.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-Kyun said on Sunday that the country was facing the most severe crisis since the start of the epidemic.
All gatherings of more than 50 persons are now banned, while sporting competitions will take place behind closed doors. Coffee shops are limited to takeaways, and restaurants may only serve seated patrons until 9 p.m.
These measures will remain in place until the end of the year, Prime Minister Chung said.
South Korea has registered just over 37,000 Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic. It had been one of the first countries to be severely affected after the virus broke out in China.