Private tuition centres shut for the first time and traffic was lighter in South Korea’s capital on Monday, the first working day of tighter social-distancing rules designed to halt a second wave of coronavirus outbreaks.
South Korea took the unprecedented step on Friday to restrict the operation of restaurants, coffee shops and so-called cram schools in the Seoul metropolitan area, with churches, nightclubs and most public schools having already been closed.
The decision came after earlier restrictions on movement failed to prevent a second wave of coronavirus infections from erupting at churches, offices, nursing homes and medical facilities.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 238 new cases as of midnight Sunday, mostly from Seoul and surrounding regions, the 18th consecutive day of triple-digit rises in daily infections.
Less cars and people were on the streets of Seoul during the morning rush hours as companies encouraged employees to work from home.
“I began working from home today as the company allowed it for the first time because the number of cases continued to surge,” said Oh Yun-mi, 36, who works at a manufacturing company.
A 40-year-old office worker who only gave his surname Cho said his usual commuting time was cut by about a third.
Private after-school tuition academies, which operated as usual in March during South Korea’s first wave of coronavirus infections, were shuttered. There are 25,000 cram schools in Seoul and nationally three out of four children – from grades 1 to 12 – attend such classes.
The government has cut staffing at public offices, while many corporations, including tech giants Samsung Electronics (005930.KS), LG (066570.KS) and SK Hynix (000660.KS), have expanded or reinstated work-from-home policies.
Onsite dining at restaurants, pubs and bakeries in the Seoul area is banned after 9 p.m. until Sunday, while coffeehouses including Starbucks (SBUX.O) are restricted to takeout and delivery.
At a Starbucks store in downtown Seoul on Sunday, customers seeking to be seated were turned away, while employees at an another outlet had set up no-access lines around tables. More than 60 coronavirus cases have been tracked back to a Starbucks outlet in Paju, just north of Seoul.
The latest restrictions would hopefully bring steady declines in daily infection numbers, cases of unknown origin and cluster infections by the end of the week, health ministry official Yoon Tae-ho said.
“How thoroughly we implement social distancing this week will be extremely important in our efforts to sever the links of infections and control the spread,” KCDC director Jeong Eun-kyeong told a briefing.
South Korea has reported total infections of 19,947 and 324 deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.