November 01, 2021 08:56
The streets of Itaewon in Seoul were packed with partygoers celebrating Halloween over the weekend as Korea prepared for a phased return to normal.
Bars were full and long queues formed outside. Across the country, tourist hot spots were teeming with visitors as well.
But the first stage of the phased return to normal did not officially start until 5 a.m. on Monday, with businesses other than bars allowed to open around the clock while private gatherings of up to 10 people in the Seoul metropolitan area and 12 in other parts of the country are permitted regardless whether they are all vaccinated.
In restaurants and coffee shops only tables of up to four people are permitted. Fully vaccinated people and those who tested negative for COVID-19 can use bars, karaoke parlors, gyms, saunas and casinos.
For events and large gatherings, up to 99 people will be allowed regardless of vaccination status or 499 fully vaccinated people.
Health officials warned the number of infections could rise to 4,000 to 5,000 as social contact increases amid colder temperatures and year-end gatherings. Health and Welfare Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said, "If infections start to go beyond the level we can handle, we will have to halt the phased return to normal and take strong emergency measures."
Some experts have already sounded the alarm. Kim Woo-joo at Korea University Guro Hospital said, "'Breakthrough infections' are happening to vaccinated people as antibodies have waned, while cold weather is creating an ideal environment for the virus to spread. It is worrying to see people becoming so lackadaisical when they should be growing more vigilant."
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