South Korea warns of stricter coronavirus restrictions if guidelines are ignored

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© Reuters. A medical worker seals a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test kit in Seoul

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By Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea's prime minister on Tuesday urged residents to abide by social distancing rules to avoid even greater restrictions in the face of the largest wave of coronavirus infections in the country.

The daily infection rates are at record levels. Another 880 new cases were reported at midnight Monday, up from 718 the day before, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said.

Schools in the Seoul metropolitan area have closed for a month from Tuesday as the government approaches toughest Level 3 restrictions, which would essentially lock down Asia's fourth largest economy.

Corporations could only allow essential workers into offices, and gatherings of more than 10 people would be prohibited under such a lockdown.

"While most citizens have the inconvenience of following the rules, some are contributing to the wild spread of the virus with their negligence and irresponsibility," Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on television at a government meeting.

"Given the weight and impact of distancing at level 3, we need to first look back to see if we are all properly implementing the current level."

The government is reluctant to impose level 3 restrictions because of the "irrevocable pain" it would cause, Chung added.

Health officials have blamed continued violations of distancing rules for the worsening of some of the recent outbreaks, including churches violating a ban on personal service and companies continuing nightly operations despite the rules prohibiting personal service after 9 p.m.

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