11 July 2024

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea on Saturday eased curfews on businesses outside the capital Seoul, letting them stay open an hour later, amid a public backlash over tight curbs to contain COVID-19.

After using aggressive testing and tracing to blunt several earlier waves of the coronavirus without drastic lockdowns, the authorities have imposed increasingly rigid social distancing rules as they fight the latest wave of the epidemic.

The restraints have pushed small business owners and self-employed people to the limits of what they can endure, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told an intra-agency meeting on Saturday.

So businesses outside the capital will now be able to stay open until 10 p.m., but “the 9 p.m. operations restriction remains as is in the metropolitan Seoul area, where more than 70% of total infections are concentrated and still faces the risk of virus transmission,” Chung said.

Most of the new cases were in Seoul, the neighbouring port city of Incheon, and Gyeonggi Province, home to over 25 million people.

Hundreds of restaurant and cafe owners across the country have complained about the impact of the bans on their businesses. Gym owners hurt by restrictions reopened in protest against strict social distancing rules.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 393 daily new COVID-19 cases on Friday. That brings total infections reported in South Korea to 80,524, with a death toll of 1,464.