South Korea eases social distancing to soften economic blow

South Korea has begun to allow larger social gatherings and lifted business-hour restrictions on restaurants in what officials described as the first step toward attempting to restore some pre-pandemic normalcy

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea on Monday began to allow larger social gatherings and lifted business-hour restrictions on restaurants in what officials described as the first step toward attempting to restore some pre-pandemic normalcy.

The capital area has been under the country’s strongest social distancing measures short of a lockdown since July. Citing pandemic fatigue and economic concerns, officials had eased the measures in mid-October to allow for gatherings of up to eight people if at least four were fully vaccinated.

Under the changes starting Monday, the limit on private social gatherings in the capital, Seoul, and nearby metropolitan areas was raised to 10 people and 12 in other regions, regardless of whether participants are fully vaccinated or not.

Restaurants and coffee shops are now allowed to open for 24 hours, rather than being forced to close at 10 p.m. in the greater Seoul area and at midnight in the rest of the country. However, high-risk entertainment venues such as nightclubs are required to close at midnight.

The gathering limits on political rallies or social events such as exhibitions or weddings were raised to a maximum of 499 people if all the participants are fully vaccinated. Larger crowds will also be allowed at professional sports.

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