SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea reported the lowest daily number of new coronavirus cases since late November as the government slightly eased social distancing restrictions in the face of growing criticism from businesses impacted by the rules.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 289 additional cases as of midnight Sunday, with the daily tally falling below 300 for the first time since November 23.
In recent months South Korea has been battling its largest and most persistent wave of infections, with daily cases peaking at more than 1,200 over the Christmas holiday.
Despite the drop in cases since then, authorities have been hesitant to ease unprecedented social distancing restrictions ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday from Feb. 11, when tens of millions of Koreans usually travel across the country to family gatherings.
South Korea on Saturday eased curfews on more than half a million restaurants and other businesses outside the capital Seoul, letting them stay open an hour later, amid a public backlash over tight curbs to contain covid-19.
Rules remain stricter in the capital Seoul and surrounding areas, where more than 70% of infections are concentrated.
In late January, authorities extended social distancing curbs until Feb. 14 – including a ban on private gatherings larger than four people – and called on residents to stay home during the long holiday.
Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa