July 3, 2020 / 3:01 AM / a month ago

South Korean city returns to tighter social distancing as coronavirus cases spike

FILE PHOTO: High school students wearing protective masks walk after finishing their classes, as schools reopen following the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Gwangju , South Korea, May 20, 2020. Yonhap/via REUTERS/File Photo

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea reported 63 new coronavirus cases as of Thursday, most from domestic infections outside Seoul, triggering the return of tighter social distancing curbs in one city as the spectre of a second wave of the disease worried authorities.

South Korea was praised for containing its first outbreak of COVID-19 but Asia’s fourth-largest economy has experienced persistent outbreaks in recent weeks, mostly in the capital.

For the first time in almost two months, new daily cases from other cities surpassed those from Seoul area. The southwestern city of Gwangju has recorded more than 50 cases the past few days, prompting the suspension of operations at public facilities such as public libraries and museums.

“Gwangju City immediately upgraded its social distancing guidelines to second stage, limiting indoor gatherings to below 50 and outdoor gatherings to below 100,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a meeting on Friday.

Health authorities have recently categorized social distancing rules in three stages - stage 1 being the least intense and stage 3 the toughest, where schools and businesses are urged to close.

The recent spikes are concerning as new clusters are emerging in wide range of areas, making it harder for epidemiological surveys. But with the case numbers still manageable, local governments will each decide whether to upgrade their guidelines, Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told a briefing.

The new cases took South Korea’s tally to 12,967 with 282 deaths by midnight on Thursday.

Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Lincoln Feast.

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