South Korea on Sunday decided to raise social distancing measures for the greater Seoul area to the second-highest level as part of the efforts to curb the latest surge of coronavirus.
The government announced it would apply Level 2.5 distancing, the second highest in the country's five-tier COVID-19 alert system, to the nation's capital area, which covers Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi province, for the next three weeks.
"We've come upon a critical period in the fight against COVID-19," said Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun during a government COVID-19 response meeting. "Despite our efforts to tighten social distancing, the daily number of infections rose to more than 500 last week from 400."
The announcement came after Seoul launched unprecedented curfews, shuttering most establishments and shops at 9 p.m. for two weeks and cutting back public transportation operations by 30 percent on Saturday evenings.
The country on Sunday reported 631 new coronavirus cases, the highest in nine months, ahead of the government decision on tightening social distancing curbs as health authorities struggle to contain a third wave of outbreaks.
The new cases bring South Korea's tally to 37,546, with 545 deaths, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported.