South Korea has reported its biggest daily jump in Covid-19 cases in 70 days as the government began fining people on Friday who fail to wear masks in public.
The 191 cases added to the country’s caseload represented the sixth consecutive day of over 100 and the highest daily increase since September 4 when authorities reported 198 new infections.
More than 120 of the cases were from the Seoul metropolitan area, where the coronavirus has spread in a variety of places, including hospitals, nursing homes, churches, schools, restaurants and offices.
The steady spread of the virus has alarmed government officials, who eased social distancing measures to the lowest level since October to soften the pandemic’s shock on the economy.
While this has allowed high-risk venues like nightclubs and karaoke bears to reopen, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said during a virus meeting on Friday that the viral spread could force the government to “seriously consider” tightening social distancing again.
“We are at a precarious situation,” he said, pleading for citizen vigilance and for labor unionists and civic groups to cancel planned rallies.
From Friday, officials started to impose fines of up to 100,000 won (US$90) for people who fail to properly wear masks in public transport and a wide range of venues, including hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacies, nightclubs, karaoke bars, religious and sports facilities and at gatherings of more than 500 people.
Operators of those places could pay up to 3 million won (US$2,700) in fines.
People will also be required to wear masks at restaurants and cafes when they are not eating or drinking.
In the capital Seoul, city employees were deployed at subway stations and bus stops to monitor commuters. There were no immediate reports of major disruption.
The strengthening of the policy comes as authorities also expanded mandatory mask usage earlier this month to 23 new types of places, including spas, wedding halls and department stores.
More than half of the country's infections in the past two weeks were from the densely populated metropolitan Seoul area, according to health authorities.
The new cases brought the total number of cases in South Korea to 28,133 as of Thursday midnight with Covid-19 deaths reaching 488, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
The government is in final talks with global drugmakers over potential vaccines as it seeks to secure supplies to cover 60 percent of its population this year. (AP & Reuters)
South Korea fines people without mask in public
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