11 July 2024

From November 1st, South Korea will be implementing the first phase of a gradual, post COVID-19 return to normal. Private gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed in the capital region and up to 12 in non-capital areas.

The key to the first phase, lasting 4 weeks, is the lifting of restrictions on business operation hours. All establishments accessed by the public, including restaurants, cafes and indoor sports facilities, can operate around the clock with no restrictions. There will, however, be an exception for entertainment venues, which will have to close by midnight.

A “vaccine pass” will also be introduced at entertainment and sports facilities, “singing rooms” and bathhouses, where infection risks run high. Those not vaccinated must present a negative test result before admission.

In the case of entertainment venues, unvaccinated people cannot enter, even with a negative COVID-19 test result.

Prime minister Kim Boo-kyum said that the use of a vaccine pass is inevitable, to reduce infection cluster risks, as easing of restrictions will naturally increase customer numbers. A 1 to 2 week “guidance” period will be allowed to minimize confusion.

In restaurants and cafes, where people need to take off face masks, only four unvaccinated people may gather together.

As for larger events and rallies, a maximum of 100 participants is allowed but, if they only consist of vaccinated people, this limit rises to 500.

Meanwhile, quarantine rules will be stepped up at high risk facilities. Only the vaccinated will be allowed to visit senior care facilities, hospitals, senior community and welfare centres.

The South Korean government projects daily new infections could reach as many as 5,000, if personal contact increases under the “living with COVID-19” scheme and as people spend more time indoors in the winter. It said temporary but stringent emergency measures will be introduced if hospitalisation and fatality rates suddenly surge.

On Friday, South Korea reported over 2,000 new cases for the second day in a row. 79.9% of the population have been vaccinated with at least one dose while 73.2% are fully inoculated.