Seoul to shut down night life for two weeks as Covid-19 cases surge

Officials have warned that the country could report daily virus cases of between 700 and 1,000 in the next one or two weeks.
Officials have warned that the country could report daily virus cases of between 700 and 1,000 in the next one or two weeks.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL - Night life in Seoul will grind to a halt after 9pm daily for two weeks from Saturday (Dec 5), when stricter measures come into effect, as South Korea continues to struggle with a third wave of coronavirus infections.

New restrictions include closing all malls, movie theatres, Internet cafes, game arcades, beauty salons and supermarkets from 9pm, with only convenience stores smaller than 300 sq m in size allowed to open at night.

Buses will also cut their capacity by 30 per cent after 9pm, while subways will do the same from next Tuesday.

Announcing the measures on Friday, acting Seoul mayor Seo Jeong-hyup said the city is “currently facing a desperately dangerous crisis”.

“We have no room left to retreat,” he said during an online media briefing. “We are stopping Seoul after 9pm.”

South Korea recorded 629 new cases on Friday - the highest in nine months, when the first wave of infections hit south-eastern city Daegu.

The total number of cases has risen to 36,332, with 536 deaths.

A record-high 295 infections hit Seoul, raising the tally to 9,716. Clusters have been found in a clinic, call centre, gym and university, among others.

Mr Seo said it was challenging for the authorities to “keep up with the pace of infections because clusters are emerging simultaneously in various parts of daily life”.

Only 15.8 per cent of cases reported in the past two weeks had known transmission routes - unlike the previous two waves that could be traced largely to massive church gatherings and rallies.

It does not help that the winter cold is also keeping people indoors at close proximity in dense spaces, Mr Seo added.

Seoul and greater Seoul have been placed under the third of a five-tier social distancing system since Nov 24.

Anti-virus measures enforced include closures of clubs and bars, a ban on dine-in services at cafes, and imposing a 20 per cent cap on seating at religious events.

Karaoke rooms and indoor sports facilities will have to close from 9pm, while restaurants will switch to delivery and takeout.

These restrictions have yet to show any effect though, as the number of new cases has been hovering at around 400 to 600 a day.

In addition to curbs on night life beyond 9pm, Seoul city will also shut down all public facilities run by the city from Saturday. These include 66 cultural spaces, 114 for youth and 1,114 for sports.

With these new curbs, Seoul city hopes to bring the number of infections down to fewer than 100 cases a day within two weeks.

Experts warned that the daily tally could rise to 700 to 1,000 within the next two weeks if the pace of infections does not subside.

Health authorities are also urging the 490,000 high school seniors who just sat their college entrance exams on Thursday to refrain from going out in big numbers to celebrate.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Friday that the government will monitor the situation and decide whether to impose more curbs on Sunday.

Seoul’s acting mayor Mr Seo warned that all economic activities will stop if the country imposes the fifth tier of social distancing.

“That is the last card we will use,” he said.