South Korea's Minister of Health Park Neung-hoo announced the country will raise its social distancing measures from this Tuesday, as the capital city area has entered a "widespread stage."
South Korea was widely praised as a Covid-19 success story, and had managed to keep the pandemic largely under control.
But there are now more active Covid-19 cases in South Korea than at any other point through the pandemic, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
Pandemic is on the brink of spreading: The Seoul Metropolitan Area will enter the fourth-highest level of social distancing restrictions in a five-level system for three weeks starting on Tuesday at 12 a.m. local time, Park said Sunday.
Park noted that past distancing measures had not yielded a clear result and that the pandemic is at the brink of spreading to the rest of the country.
There are currently 7,873 Covid-19 patients in the country, which has recorded a total of 37,546 cases and 545 deaths since the pandemic began.
Seoul restrictions: From Tuesday in the Seoul Metropolitan Area, gatherings including those at weddings and funerals must not exceed 50 people. Karaoke businesses and gyms must close, and spectators will be banned at sports events.
Hair salons and movie theatres must close after 9 p.m. The government will strongly recommend private businesses transition to work from home so only one-third of workers are in the workplace.
Masks mandatory as Covid-19 hospital beds could run out: In the rest of the country, masks will become mandatory in all indoor facilities, and gatherings must not exceed 100 people. Bars and clubs will be closed, and restaurants will only be allowed to serve takeout and deliveries past 9 p.m.
If the current trend persists, beds dedicated to critical care of Covid-19 patients will run out in about a week, Park said. Park said the health authority will work to secure more critical care beds dedicated to Covid-19 patients from 177 beds currently, to 274 beds by December 15.
"We are no longer recommending refraining from having gatherings. Please cancel all of them and reduce all activity for these three weeks," Park said.