© Reuters. Women wearing masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) use portable fans to cool off in Seoul
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea announced that stricter social distancing policies nationwide to curb the spread of the coronavirus will be introduced starting Sunday to combat a new outbreak of the disease from the capital, Seoul.
The Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 315 new domestic coronavirus infections at midnight on Friday. This is the latest triple digit increase in new local cases, bringing the country's number to 17,002 with 309 deaths.
South Korea used advanced contact tracing and widespread testing to contain the first novel coronavirus outbreak. However, Asia's fourth largest economy has seen sustained outbreaks in recent weeks, mostly in and around densely populated Seoul and the surrounding areas.
In Seoul and some surrounding cities, the government has reintroduced social distancing rules, including restricting large gatherings, banning face-to-face gatherings in church, and closing nightclubs, karaoke bars, buffets and cyber cafes.
The same guidelines will apply to other areas across the country starting Sunday. However, in some areas with fewer infections, the guidelines are recommended rather than mandatory.
"If we don't contain the spread (of the virus) at an early stage, it will grow as a big wave. There is nothing more important to us than focusing on responding to COVID-19."
Health Minister Park Neung-hoo reported on Saturday.
The Ministry of Health also said it was postponing its decision to pursue a policy of increasing the number of medical students until the COVID-19 situation stabilizes.
Thousands of South Korean doctors have staged strikes and protests against government plans to train new doctors. They said there are enough doctors there but better conditions and systems are needed to properly assign them.
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