Selin ATAY-TDO- South Korea said on Saturday the country will roll out tougher social distancing guidelines to reduce the spread of coronavirus nationwide as it battles a new outbreak of the disease spreading from the capital, Seoul.

South Korea used advanced contact tracing and widespread testing to contain its first outbreak of the novel coronavirus. However, the country has experienced persistent outbreaks in recent weeks, mostly in and around densely populated Seoul and the surrounding areas.

The latest numbers take the country’s tally to 17,002 with 309 deaths, according to The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) report.

In Seoul and some surrounding cities, the government has reimposed second-tier social distancing rules. The government listed those rules as restricting large gatherings, banning in-person church meetings while closing nightclubs, karaoke bars, buffets and cyber cafes. 

The same guidelines will be imposed on other areas across the country. However, in some areas with fewer infections, the guidelines would be recommended, not as obligatory.

“If we don’t curb the spread (of the virus) in early stages, this will grow as a large-scale wave. To us, there is nothing more important than focusing on responding to COVID-19,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo told a briefing on Saturday. 

Health authorities have categorized social distancing rules in three stages; stage 1 being the least intense and stage 3 the toughest, where educational institutions and businesses are urged to close. 

“If we enhance the social distancing guidelines to the third stage, it is inevitable that they will take a toll on people’s daily lives and economy. We urge you to the situation seriously,” KCDC deputy director Kwon Jun-wook told reporters.

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