SEOUL (XINHUA) - South Korea decided on Friday (May 21) to extend its current social distancing measures for another three weeks as cluster infections continue to grow, especially in the Seoul metropolitan area.
"The number of new daily average patients as of late remains in the 500 level, not budging below that point, and infections are continuing from all quarters in our daily lives," Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum was quoted by the Yonhap news agency as saying at a press briefing announcing the extension.
The announcement came as the government approved Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine to speed up its inoculation efforts.
The green light was given after two of three expert panels recommended approval be granted for the two-dose vaccine based on safety and efficacy in late-stage trials in the United States.
Moderna is the fourth Covid-19 vaccine to be approved in South Korea, following doses developed by AstraZeneca , Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.
Under the country's five-tier social-distancing guidelines, the third-highest Level 2 will be kept in place till June 13 in the capital Seoul and its surrounding Gyeonggi province, with the Level 1.5 to be placed in other areas.
The ban on any gatherings of five or more people will be maintained across the country for three more weeks.
The toughened social-distancing rules have been extended six times since Feb 15 amid the lingering worry about small cluster infections especially in the capital area.
In the latest tally, the country reported 561 more confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, raising the total tally to 134,678.
The daily average caseload for the past week was 614.
Of the new cases, nearly two-thirds were Seoul residents and people residing in Gyeonggi province.
In the greater Seoul area, the operation of entertainment facilities such as nightclubs is prohibited. In other regions, local governments are allowed to let the facilities run until 10pm or without time limits according to the severity of the local epidemic situation.
The opening hours for multi-use facilities, such as restaurants, cafes, indoor sports facilities and karaoke rooms, are shortened to until 10pm in the capital area, while no restriction is imposed elsewhere.
No restriction is imposed nationwide on the business hours of other multi-use facilities, which include movie theatres, internet cafes, private cram schools, study rooms, amusement parks, beauty shops and discount outlets.
Under the Level 2 guidelines, sports events are allowed to sell up to 10 per cent of the combined tickets. Religious facilities can be filled to up to 20 per cent of their seating capacity.
The maximum number of attendees for wedding and funeral ceremonies is 100 under the Level 2, and the public bathhouse is allowed to open until 10pm.