December 16, 2021 12:34
Korea faces a miserable locked-down Christmas after a phased return to normal that began in November produced more serious COVID-19 cases than the poorly equipped health system can handle.
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said in a meeting on Wednesday, "The current situation appears to be very serious so we plan to implement stronger social distancing."
Only a month ago the government boasted that all preparations had been made to handle as many as 10,000 infections a day, but the U-turn comes as daily cases hover at just around 7,000. Just two weeks ago President Moon Jae-in vowed there will be "no turning back."
In another meeting on Thursday, the government decided to slash the number of people allowed to gather to four, provided they are fully vaccinated. Restaurants and coffee shops must close at 9 p.m. The measures will become effective this Saturday across the country due to a nationwide shortage of dedicated ICU beds.
The fresh lockdown is supposed to act as a circuit breaker and will only last until Jan. 2 if infections can be reduced in the middle of winter. Authorities also plan to require more businesses to demand vaccine passes from customers to ban the unvaccinated from such places as wedding halls, amusement parks, swimming pools and malls.
Primary and secondary schoolchildren will also go back to online classes again and only two-thirds can attend offline classes at any one time.
On Thursday morning, the daily tally of new COVID-19 infections stood at 7,622 with 989 severe cases.
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