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Asia Minute: South Korea battles new spike of COVID-19

coronavirus covid Outbreak South Korea Daily Life
Lee Jin-man/AP
Visitors wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus visit at the International Quarantine Expo in Goyang, South Korea, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

South Korea is once again facing a record number of new COVID-19 cases. And starting this weekend, the government is putting a series of restrictions into place.

South Korea has had a bumpy road with COVID-19 — dating back to its first cases in January of 2020.

The central government responded quickly to those initial cases with aggressive testing and contact tracing.

For most of that first year of the pandemic, the country was able to avoid business closures and stay-at-home orders.

But this week is setting records for new daily cases — and the government is now abandoning its policy of re-opening that it had named “Living with COVID-19.”

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency says the daily number of new cases has jumped by nearly 5 times since Nov. 1.

Late last week, the government cut the waiting time for booster shots to just three months after a second dose.

Starting on Saturday, the number of people allowed to attend private gatherings will be limited to four — and only if they’re all vaccinated.

Across the country, restaurants, bars and nightclubs will all have to close by 9 p.m.

Further restrictions may be coming to deal with a situation the Prime Minister calls “very grave.”

He says the immediate priorities are to expand the country’s medical capacity and increase vaccinations — including boosters.

The short-term measures will last for at least two weeks — through Jan. 2 — and are targeted at reducing the spread of the virus through the New Year’s holiday.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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