South Korea recorded its largest daily increase in new coronavirus cases in 70 days on Friday, the same day that the national government announced it would begin fining people $90 for failing to wear sanitary masks in public.
“Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 191 cases added to the country’s caseload Friday, the highest daily increase since September 4,” when health authorities reported 198 new coronavirus infections, Voice of America reported on November 13.
Friday marked South Korea’s sixth consecutive day of documenting over 100 new coronavirus cases. KDCA said it detected over 120 of Friday’s new cases in the Seoul metropolitan area. The capital region is home to over 25 million people.
South Korean government officials had recently eased social distancing measures in the country to the lowest level since October in an effort to alleviate the pandemic’s toll on the economy.
“While this has allowed high-risk venues like nightclubs and karaoke bears to reopen, [South Korean] Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said during a virus meeting on Friday that the viral spread could force the government to ‘seriously consider’ tightening social distancing again,” Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) reported.
“We are at a precarious situation,” Chung said at the government’s coronavirus taskforce meeting. According to the report, the prime minister pleaded “for citizen vigilance and for labor unionists and civic groups to cancel planned rallies.”
Starting November 13, South Korean government officials will “impose fines of up to 100,000 won (US$90) for people who fail to properly wear masks in public transport and a wide range of venues, including hospitals, nursing homes, pharmacies, nightclubs, karaoke bars, religious and sports facilities and at gatherings of more than 500 people,” RTHK reported.
Exceptions to the mask mandate and fine will be allowed “for children under the age of 14 and those who are not able to wear a mask on their own or due to medical conditions,” South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency noted.
“Moreover, masks are not required in certain situations, such as when eating or drinking, inside pools or public baths or when undergoing an ID check. Walks in the park, cycling and mountain climbing are also allowed without masks on if people remain at least 2 meters apart,” Yonhap added.
Seoul deployed municipal employees to local subway stations and bus stops on Friday to monitor commuters and enforce the new mask mandate, including charging people the new $90 fine for noncompliance.
“The strengthening of the policy comes as authorities also expanded mandatory mask usage earlier this month to 23 new types of places, including spas, wedding halls, and department stores,” RTHK noted.
South Korea recorded a total of 28,133 cases and 488 deaths from the Chinese coronavirus as of Thursday midnight, according to the KDCA.