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Coronavirus

Seoul returns to strict distancing as coronavirus cases spike

South Korean capital sees highest infection tally in three weeks

South Korea had eased restrictions on business and daily life early this month after a dramatic decline in cases.   © Reuters

SEOUL -- South Korea will again ask people in the Seoul metropolitan area to stay at home starting Thursday as new clusters of coronavirus infections raise concerns about a second wave.

The country reported 79 new cases on Wednesday, marking the first time in three weeks that the daily tally has risen above the government's limit of 50.

Authorities are urging Seoul-area residents to work from home and avoid going out through June 14. Public facilities such as museums and parks will be closed, and businesses such as cram schools and internet cafes are being required to implement thorough anti-infection measures. Tougher measures will be imposed if new cases exceed 50 per day for a week.

New infections had fallen as low as two on May 6, the day that measures aimed at curbing the outbreak were relaxed. But a cluster of cases linked to Seoul nightclubs emerged shortly thereafter and spread across the country. Many new cases this week have been traced to a distribution center in the Seoul suburbs.

Health authorities had taken additional measures even after the original social distancing rules were eased, such as allowing buses and taxis to refuse service to passengers not wearing face masks.

The resurgence is complicating plans to reopen schools. Students had begun gradually returning on May 20, starting with the oldest high schoolers, but many schools have opted to postpone or cancel the resumption of classes due to infections among students or in local communities.

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