South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Tuesday called on restaurant and other business owners in the greater Seoul area to cooperate with social distancing rules to head off a spread of COVID-19 during the Lunar New Year holiday.
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The country has been trying clamp down the number of infections by imposing strident social distancing measures, including a ban on indoor restaurant dining after 9 p.m.
The authorities on Saturday eased curfews on more than half a million restaurants and other businesses outside the capital Seoul, letting them stay open an hour later, amid a public backlash over tight curbs to contain the coronavirus.
Business owners and self-employed people in Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and port city of Incheon, home to over 25 million, have strongly criticized the government for unfair treatment, prompting some businesses to open their stores in protest.
“I understand the frustration, but we have made the decision after comprehensive consideration of social acceptance and different opinions,” Chung told an intra-government meeting.
The Lunar New Year holiday starts on Feb. 11, and tens of millions of Koreans usually travel across the country to family gatherings during the celebration.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 303 daily new coronavirus cases as of Monday. That brings total infections reported in South Korea to 81,487, with a death toll of 1,482.
The KDCA was due to hold a COVID-19 vaccination dry run at a medical center with Pfizer shots on Tuesday, as the country gears up to kick off inoculation this month.
The mock drill at the National Medical Center in Seoul comes after last week’s three-day vaccination preparedness drill at an airport, mobilizing special freezers and running through scenarios such as a terror attack, theft and transport faults.