South Korea warns of tougher coronavirus restrictions if rules ignored

(Reuters) – South Korea’s prime minister pleaded with residents on Tuesday to abide by social distancing rules to avoid even greater restrictions in the face of the country’s largest wave of coronavirus infections.

Daily infection rates are hovering at record levels with another 880 new cases reported as of midnight Monday, up from 718 a day earlier, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said.

Schools in the Seoul metropolitan area closed for a month from Tuesday as the government moves closer to imposing the toughest Level 3 restrictions, which would essentially mean a lockdown of Asia’s fourth-largest economy.

Companies could allow only essential workers in offices and gatherings of more than 10 people would be banned under such a lockdown.

“While most citizens bear the inconvenience to comply with the rules, some are adding fuel to the ferocious spread of the virus with their carelessness and irresponsibility,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said in televised remarks at a government meeting.

“Considering the weight and impact of Level 3 distancing, we first need to level-headedly look back at whether all of us are properly implementing the current level.”

The government is reluctant to impose Level 3 restrictions because of the “irrevocable pain” it would cause, Chung added.

Health authorities have blamed persistent violations of distancing rules for worsening some of the recent outbreaks, including churches breaching a ban on in-person services and businesses continuing nightly operations, despite rules banning in-person service after 9 p.m.