SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea on Tuesday moved to shut down all ski resorts and winter tourist spots in a bid to stop the novel coronavirus spreading as a third wave of the pandemic proves much tougher to contain in the densely populated region around the capital city.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the government will close ski facilities, ice rinks and tourist attractions from Dec. 24 to Jan. 3. Gatherings of more than four people will be banned while tighter anti-virus curbs will be imposed on restaurants to tamp down infections, he said in a televised briefing.
The announcement comes after Seoul and surrounding areas banned gatherings of more than four people over the Christmas and New Year holidays as the country recording its highest daily death toll from the coronavirus on Monday.
South Korea reported 869 new coronavirus cases as of Monday midnight, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said on Tuesday, down from the daily record of 1,097 reported over the weekend.
Along with the nationwide curbs in place on winter sports facilities, all hotels and resorts are restricted to booking 50% of available rooms, KDCA deputy director Kwon Jun-wook told a briefing.
Authorities said they will push ahead with securing COVID-19 vaccine supplies, as well as developing local vaccines and treatment drugs.
President Moon Jae-in told a meeting with top officials it was perhaps inevitable that inoculations were given priority in countries that developed vaccines, as they have put in a lot of financial and administrative support to develop them, the presidential Blue House said in a statement.
“We believe that we will be able to vaccinate the public in no late time, and we are preparing well,” said Moon.
Authorities have said they will be able to inoculate the public in the first quarter of next year.
The rash of new cases has shaken a country that has for months been held up as a pandemic mitigation success story. The new cases bring the nation’s tally to 51,460 infections, with 722 deaths.
“The message the government is urging the people is clear,” Chung said. “We sincerely ask you to cancel all travel and gatherings and stay home during Christmas and New Year holidays.”
The national government has so far resisted calls to impose Phase 3 in the country’s anti-COVID-19 plans, the toughest of all categorized social distancing rules that would essentially lock down Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Lincoln Feast)