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South Korea reimposes social distancing after COVID-19 cases spike

People wearing face masks visit the Changdeokgung palace Thursday amid the coronavirus outbreak in Seoul. Photo by Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA-EFE
People wearing face masks visit the Changdeokgung palace Thursday amid the coronavirus outbreak in Seoul. Photo by Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA-EFE

Aug. 15 (UPI) -- South Korea reimposed social distancing measures Saturday to curb COVID-19 after local cases spiked recently in the capital.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 166 new cases, including 155 new local cases and 11 new imported cases, a five-month high.

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Most of the new cases were in Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi province.

"The spread of coronavirus is very serious for Seoul and Gyeonggi province, the confirmed cases almost doubled in a day," South Korea's Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said in a televised address Saturday. "Our priority is to swiftly stop the virus from spreading further in the capital area."

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Authorities imposed Level 2 social distancing in Seoul and Gyeonggi, which limits indoor public gatherings to 50 people and outdoor gatherings to 100 people. The restrictions also mean the public can no longer attend sporting events, and government-run public facilities will be closed, along with privately run facilities considered to be high risk.

Churches in Seoul and Gyeonggi have been linked to the outbreaks. Seoul issued an executive order Friday to 7,560 religious facilities to restrict group events except the main service. Gyeonggi Gov. Lee Jae-myung issued an order Friday to restrict religious gatherings.

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The U.S. Forces Korea restricted non-essential travel for U.S. military personnel to hotspot areas.

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Park Yoo-mi, a health official for the city of Seoul, said attendees at an anti-government rally could face prosecution under a protest ban and if a COVID-19 case is confirmed from the protest, organizers could face a fine.

To date, South Korea has reported 15,039 cases of COVID-19 and 305 deaths from the disease, according to the Johns Hopkins University global tracker.

South Koreans are currently amid a long weekend that the government introduced in July to relieve stress from the pandemic.

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On Saturday, in Britain, a policy for British tourists arriving home from France to quarantine for 14 days because of a rise in COVID-19 cases in France became effective at 4 a.m. Some Britons returning from France arrived minutes before the new quarantine policy was implemented.

Britain has reported 318,193 cases and 46,791 deaths, according to the global tracker of COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, the French High Council of Public Health said Friday that citizens should wear masks to limit spread of the disease.

The recommendation follows an open letter that 239 international scientists sent to the World Health Organization on July 4 proposing the reclassification of the virus that causes COVID-19 disease as as an airborne virus.

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Over the past week, data from France shows a 66% increase in newly reported cases.

On Friday, the French government declared Paris and Marseille high-risk zones for the virus, which grants authorities power to impose local restrictions to limit the spread of the spread of the disease.

France has reported 249,655 cases and 30,410 deaths from COVID-19, according to the global tracker.

New Zealand reinstated a lockdown earlier this week after more than 100 days without reporting local transmission of COVID-19 due to a new outbreak in its largest city of Auckland, which was extended Friday for another 12 days.

On Saturday, authorities confirmed seven new COVID-19 cases, with six of them linked to previous cases in the new cluster in Auckland and the other one still under investigation.

The new cases bring the total number of cases in New Zealand to 1,609 cases. Twenty-two deaths have also been reported in the country, according to the global tracker.

In Ireland, Michael Cawley, the chairman of Irish tourism authority called Failte Ireland, has resigned after he went to Italy on holiday despite government cautioning to avoid non-essential and international travel.

"I was disappointed to learn that the chair of Failte Ireland was holidaying in Italy," Catherine Martin, the Irish minister for media tourism, arts, culture, sport and the gaelteacht, said Saturday. "I rang Mr. Cawley this morning and he has offered his resignation which I have accepted. I wish to thank Mr. Cawley for his service as chair of Failte Ireland."

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Italy has reported 253,438 COVID-19 cases and 35,392 deaths from the disease.

Ireland, which has a smaller population, has reported 27,191 cases and 1,774 deaths.

In Mexico, which has reported 511,369 cases and 55,908 deaths from the virus, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called for 30 days of national mourning to honor COVID-19 victims.

Worldwide, COVID-19 has sickened over 21.2 million and killed over 766,400. Three countries have more than half of the world's cases, including the United States, Brazil and India.

The United States has over 5.3 million cases and over 169,100 deaths. Brazil has over 3.2 million cases and over 106,500 deaths. India has over 2.5 million cases and over 49,000 deaths.

World moves to reopen amid COVID-19 pandemic

Visitors wear face masks as they tour the Whitney Museum of American Art as it reopens on September 3. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

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