South Koreans return to gyms and coffee shops

South Koreans return to gyms and coffee shops as second wave of coronavirus weakens to 100 cases per day and restrictions are eased

  • South Korea has battled several spikes after suppressing initial wave of cases 
  • Restrictions have been eased with cases falling to fewer than 1,000 per week
  • But tougher measures will return ahead of a national holiday in early October 

South Koreans returned to gyms and coffee shops today as the country eased social distancing rules for two weeks after a decline in cases. 

After suppressing an early Covid-19 surge with extensive testing and tracing, South Korea has battled several spikes in recent weeks, mainly in the Seoul region which is home to half the country’s 52million people. 

But new cases have fallen to around 100 per day compared to a peak of more than 400 in a day in late August, meaning restrictions can be loosened. 

Starting this week, coffee chops can resume sit-down service while restaurants and bakeries are returning to normal hours – but tougher measures will return ahead of a three-day national holiday in late September and early October. 

Infections in South Korea have been dropping again after a summer spike which brought the worst single-day increases since March 

South Koreans wearing masks on a Seoul subway train on Tuesday as restrictions are loosened this week following a gradual decline in cases 

In the early days of the pandemic, South Korea was one of the first countries outside China to be heavily affected, with nearly 3,000 cases in the month of February. 

While the crisis spiralled out of control in Europe and the Americas in March and April, South Korea brought the epidemic to a near-standstill with a widely-praised testing and tracing scheme.

Cases started picking up again in late summer, with infections rising by nearly 300 per cent from July to August, leading to new restrictions.

The 441 new cases on August 27 were the most since March, but cases have slowed since then with only 106 new positive tests announced today, the fewest in a month. 

Seoul was responsible for 32 of today’s new cases, while another 39 were in the Gyeonggi-do region which surrounds the capital.  

Meanwhile, deaths remain low with only 367 fatalities since the start of the pandemic – although there have been 43 in the last two weeks compared to 18 in the previous fortnight. 

Around 3,100 people are currently in quarantine in South Korea, with nearly 400 released from isolation in the last 24 hours.  

A woman wearing a mask works out at Chungwoon Sporex gym as fitness centres were allowed to re-open with appropriate hygiene measures 

Commuters get off a train during rush hour in Seoul this morning with most of the country’s new cases coming in or near the capital city 

Prime minister Chung Sye-kyun told a government meeting on Sunday that measures would be eased in the Seoul metropolitan area for two weeks.   

‘We’re not in a situation to relax yet but the effect of tightened quarantine measures has been showing little by little,’ he said.

‘The number of daily infections is still not dropping to double-digits and it isn’t yet a situation where measures can be significantly relaxed, as one out of four people’s path of transmission is untraceable.’ 

The easing means that franchise coffee shops can resume normal operations after previously being limited to takeaways.  

Restaurants and bakeries will return to normal hours, while indoor gyms and hagwons – private cram schools – can open their doors again. 

But Chung warned of tougher social distancing rules during the Chuseok holiday – the Korean harvest festival – from September 30 to October 2. 

A woman sits at a cafe table with a tray of food in Seoul today after coffee shops were allowed to resume indoor service 

A woman wearing a mask looks at her phone on board a subway train in Seoul this morning 

Chuseok is one of the country’s biggest holidays with millions travelling across the country to visit family in the nation’s largest annual migration.

Although officials had earlier asked the public to skip the annual tradition, local reports said hotels at popular vacation spots were fully booked for the holiday.

‘The long weekend is forecast to be the biggest crisis for quarantine efforts against Covid-19 in the second half of the year,’ Chung said.

Restrictions on large gatherings will remain, with nightclubs and karaoke bars still closed, authorities said.

Indoor gatherings are limited to 50 people and outdoor gatherings to 100, while spectators are banned from sporting events.  

In addition, restaurants and cafes are still required to restrict seating and take their customers’ names and contact details.  

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