Coronavirus: South Korea to relax social distancing rules further starting May 6

A crowd in Seoul's Jongno Ward on April 20, as South Korea began the same day to soften its social distancing guidelines. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea said on Sunday (May 3) it will loosen social distancing rules this week to allow gatherings and events to take place after the number of new coronavirus cases dropped significantly in recent days.

The country endured one of the worst early outbreaks of the disease outside China and strict social distancing has been widely observed since March.

Scores of events - from K-pop concerts to sports seasons - had been delayed or cancelled, while museums and galleries were closed and religious services suspended.

But the South appears to have brought its outbreak under control thanks to an extensive "trace, test and treat" programme that has drawn widespread praise.

Its reported death toll is around 250 - vastly lower than that of Italy, Britain, Spain and France, which have each recorded at least 24,000 fatalities.

"South Korea will implement the everyday life quarantine scheme starting Wednesday," Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said during a government meeting.

"Gatherings and events will be permitted under the condition that they follow disinfection measures," he added.

The South reported 13 new infections on Sunday, taking the total to 10,793, the Korea Centres for Disease Control said.

Some professional sports, including baseball and soccer, are due to start their new seasons this week after being postponed over virus fears, although the matches will be played behind closed doors.

The government is also set to announce this week the dates for students to return to school, which is expected to be some time around mid-May, according to Yonhap news agency.

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