South Korea expands mask requirements as COVID-19 cases grow

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea said on Sunday it will expand its mandatory mask policy to spas, wedding halls and other places as part of new social distancing rules aimed at preparing for a prolonged COVID-19 outbreak.

FILE PHOTO: People take a walk as they wear masks to avoid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a park in Seoul, South Korea, October 5, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

While South Korea has managed to contain the COVID-19 spread better than many western nations, which are struggling with a resurgent virus, daily new cases in the country have risen above 100 in recent days.

The Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 124 new cases as of midnight Saturday, marking a fifth consecutive day of infections topping 100 due to small clusters emerging in places such as spas, schools and churches.

Currently, mask wearing is mandatory for 12 “high-risk” classes of venues, such as clubs, karaoke bars and internet cafes.

From Nov. 7, these restrictions will be expanded to 23 types of places, which include department stores, theme parks and hair salons.

People caught failing to wear masks in such places face fines of up to 100,000 won ($87.99) from Nov. 13, while operators of those places face fines of up to 3 million won.

South Korea on Sunday also announced a new five-tiered social distancing scheme, which replaces a three-level system. The more targeted approach to restrictions is designed to mitigate the impact of curbs on the economy, small businesses and people.

For example, under the old system, clubs would be required to close under level 2 restrictions. A new 1.5 restriction level allows clubs to stay open but stops patrons from dancing to minimise contact.

“A prolonged COVID-19 outbreak is inevitable until treatments and vaccines are developed,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said at a briefing.

($1 = 1,136.4900 won)

Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin