South Korea to loosen social distancing rules on July 1


FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a mask amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic takes photographs of her boyfriend at a Han river park in Seoul, South Korea, May 24, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea will relax social distancing rules and allow private gatherings of up to six people in the greater Seoul area from the current four starting July 1, the government said on Sunday.

The announcement comes as South Korea has inoculated 29.2% of its population as of Saturday, putting it on track to meet a target of 70% by September.

Daily new infections have held stubbornly in a range of 400 to 700 for the past few weeks, but have stayed below 600 for more than a week so far.

Under the revised rules, restaurants, night-life venues and cafes will be allowed to open for business until 12 a.m., versus 10 p.m. currently.

"The new social distancing system is an effort to find a balance between quarantine and daily life recovery amid the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic," Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said in a televised briefing.

Unless daily infections spike significantly, the government plans to allow gatherings of up to eight people in the greater Seoul area from July 15, Kwon said.

For those outside of greater Seoul, no restrictions will apply on the number of private gatherings allowed.

South Korea reported 429 new infections by midnight on Saturday, for a tally of 151,149 cases, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said, with a death toll of 2,002.

(Reporting by Cynthia Kim; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

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