S.Korea extends social distancing curbs as COVID-19 cases rise in Seoul

People rest as they keep social distancing to avoid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a park in Seoul, South Korea, September 27, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

SEOUL, Oct 1 (Reuters) - South Korea extended social distancing curbs to combat the coronavirus pandemic on Friday for two weeks, offering more incentives to people to get vaccinated as it battles thousands of new cases each day, particularly in the capital.

The rapid resurgence in the greater Seoul area prompted authorities to extend distancing restrictions until Oct. 17, including a ban in the region on dining out after 10 p.m. and gatherings of more than two people after 6 p.m.

The country recorded 2,486 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), with the daily tally having topped 3,000 for the first time last week.

The daily average exceeded 2,635 over the past week - the highest-ever level and easily more than twice the level a month before, the KDCA said.

The capital Seoul and neighbouring regions remain the hotspot, reporting almost 2,000 cases every day for the last week, up about 42% within just one week.

"We're in a very dangerous situation where the virus is spreading surrounding the Seoul metropolitan area," said Lee Ki-il, deputy minister of health care policy, speaking during a briefing.

The upcoming two weeks is an important period as the government is revamping its anti-virus policy to facilitate a phased return to normal activities starting November, he added.

Among new incentives introduced to encourage people to get vaccinated, the deputy minister said wedding ceremonies can be held with up to 199 attendees if they included 150 fully vaccinated people.

"If the vaccination rate constantly rises and the scales of outbreaks are stably controlled for the next two weeks, we should be able to set out on phased back to normal in earnest," Lee said.

Around 77% of South Korea's 52 million population had received one shot of vaccine as of Thursday, with about 50% fully vaccinated, as the country has quickly ramped up its inoculation campaign despite a shaky start. read more

The government aims to vaccinate 80% of all adults by the end of October, and is considering introducing a 'vaccine pass' to allow those who have been fully inoculated to use public facilities and travel more freely.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

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