Seoul area to ban gatherings of 5 or more people

The South Korean capital of Seoul and its surrounding municipalities have decided to ban private gatherings involving five or more people, from Wednesday to January 3.

The decision comes after the country's health authorities confirmed 24 new deaths from the coronavirus across the country on Sunday. They also reported 1,097 new infections the previous day. The figures were both the highest-ever.

The acting mayor of Seoul, Seo Jeong-hyup, told reporters on Monday that eateries and similar venues have accounted for 40 percent of cluster infections over the past month.

He stressed it is impossible to overcome the current crisis without reducing cluster infections resulting from private gatherings with family members, colleagues and friends.

He said that the new restrictions on gatherings will also be put in place in neighboring Gyeonggi Province and the city of Incheon. The ban applies to all indoor and outdoor gatherings except funerals and weddings. Violations will be fined.

Meanwhile, the central government is cautious about raising the alert level to the highest in its five-tire social distancing scheme. It says raising the level will have a significant impact on the economy and should be avoided as far as possible.