South Korea restores coronavirus lockdown restrictions after new spike in cases

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South Korea has reimplemented lockdown restrictions after seeing its biggest spike in coronavirus cases in more than 50 days.

Parks, museums and state-run theaters in Seoul will be shut down for the next two weeks beginning Friday to slow the spread of COVID-19. Officials advised residents in the metropolitan area to avoid unnecessary gatherings and urged companies to keep sick employees away from work.

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"The next two weeks are crucial to prevent the spread of the infection in the metropolitan area," said Health Minister Park Neung-hoo, according to AFP. "We will have to return to social distancing if we fail."

The resurgence of COVID-19 struck hardest in Seoul, where 67 of the 79 new cases were reported, said the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). About half of South Korea’s 51 million people live in the city.

People wearing face masks arrive at the domestic flight terminal of Gimpo airport in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday. The quarantine authorities on Wednesday began to require all airplane passengers to wear masks amid the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

People wearing face masks arrive at the domestic flight terminal of Gimpo airport in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday. The quarantine authorities on Wednesday began to require all airplane passengers to wear masks amid the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

KCDC Director Jeong Eun-kyeong said the country may need to reimpose social distancing restrictions, noting it’s becoming more difficult for health workers to track transmissions amid increasing public activity.

South Korea was reporting around 500 new cases per day in early March before managing to stabilize its outbreak with aggressive tracking and testing. Officials relaxed social distancing guidelines in early May.

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However, the move saw huge crowds return to nightclubs and other entertainment venues, which have been linked to hundreds of infections.

Seoul and nearby cities restored some of the controls in recent weeks by closing thousands of bars, karaoke rooms and other entertainment venues to slow the spread of the virus. The country also began requiring masks on public transit and airline flights this week.

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At least 82 infections so far have been linked to workers at a massive warehouse operated by local e-commerce giant Coupang. Health authorities plan to finish testing more than 4,000 workers and visitors to the warehouse later Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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