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Coronavirus

South Korea extends social distancing steps as COVID cases remain high

A man reads a book while waiting in a line to undergo COVID-19 test at a coronavirus testing site which is temporarily set up in front of a railway station on Christmas day in Seoul, Dec. 25.   © Reuters

SEOUL (Reuters) -- South Korea said on Sunday it will extend social distancing measures introduced to try to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic for another six days, to Jan. 3, even as it continues to report near-record numbers of new cases each day.

For the run-up to Christmas and New Year holidays, the government banned gatherings of more than four people in greater Seoul and closed down ski resorts and other tourist spots. Beyond that temporary restriction, gatherings of more than 50 people are banned in greater Seoul and indoor restaurant dining is prohibited after 9 p.m. local time.

"We will observe the situation over the next week and decide whether to adjust the social distancing measures before Jan. 3 when the special quarantine measures for the year-end holidays terminate," Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said, speaking at a briefing.

The country reported 970 new coronavirus cases for Saturday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said earlier on Sunday, bringing the national tally to 56,872 cases, with 808 deaths.

That is the smallest in five days, but still not far off the record 1,241 infections logged on Friday.

Kwon said there will be minor adjustments to current restrictions, such as allowing take-out and delivery only for customers buying just coffee, drinks or desserts in fast-food restaurants, a measure already in place for other cafes.

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