SEOUL, May 28 (UPI) -- South Korea is tightening social distancing measures in the Seoul metropolitan region as the country reported its highest number of new COVID-19 cases in nearly two months, health minister Park Neung-hoo announced Thursday.
Starting Friday, public facilities such as parks, museums and theaters will be closed in the Seoul area, which includes the capital city, neighboring Gyeonggi Province and the nearby port city of Incheon, until June 14.
Schools, which started resuming offline classes last week, will remain open but could be closed if the outbreak is not brought under control, Park said.
"The [Seoul] metropolitan area is seeing a cluster of infections and if we are unable to curb these it could lead to a possible outbreak among schools, thus putting a halt to offline classes," Park said at a press briefing Thursday.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 79 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, the highest number since April 5.
The stricter guidelines come as a coronavirus outbreak linked to a logistics center in Bucheon, a satellite city west of Seoul, has officials worried that wider community spread may lie ahead.
As of Thursday morning, 82 confirmed cases have been tied to the center, which is operated by Coupang, South Korea's largest e-commerce company. The facility was shut down by the company and most of the more than 4,000 people connected to the warehouse have been tested, Park said.
Park warned that the coming weeks will be critical in containing further spread of the coronavirus, which had appeared to be under control in South Korea at the beginning of May as daily cases dropped into the low single digits.
"We are still very worried about possible infections," Park said. "We are currently exerting our full efforts to trace [the logistics center] contacts. However, there is a large possibility that these infections are already spreading throughout the society. We believe the following one to two weeks will be crucial."
The warehouse cluster is believed to be tied to an outbreak that started in early May at Seoul nightclubs and which has accounted for 261 cases so far, the KCDC said Thursday.
Under the newly enacted distancing guidelines, entertainment facilities will be strongly urged to close, Park said, and those that stay open will be required to follow safety guidelines that include regular disinfection and keeping accurate records of all patrons who enter.
Companies were also advised to adopt flexible work policies and residents were told to avoid unnecessary activities outside the home for the roughly two-week period.
The new distancing rules come just weeks after South Korea relaxed guidelines in what the government called an "everyday life quarantine" phase that allowed for greater social and economic activities. Baseball games started, parks and restaurants were filled with crowds and movie theaters were hoping to draw customers back.
In addition to the warehouse outbreak, officials have expressed concern over a new COVID-19 case that was found at a large call center in Bucheon. Coupang also confirmed that a worker at its logistics center in the city of Goyang, which neighbors Seoul to the north, tested positive on Wednesday.
The infections have caused some schools to close their doors, as Incheon suspended the opening of nearly 250 schools and kindergartens on Thursday morning and all schools in Bucheon were closed except for those attended by high school seniors who returned last week.
The 79 new cases reported Thursday brought South Korea's total number of infections to 11,344, while the death toll remained at 269.