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Edward White and Song Jung-a

The South Korean government has reinstated tougher social distancing and virus protection measures in Seoul following a resurgence in coronavirus transmission.

The move means school attendances will be capped at two-thirds of students and activities at high-risk and multi-use facilities such as restaurants will face restrictions. The rules apply across the greater Seoul region, a sprawling metropolis that is home to about half the country’s 52m people.

“Our fight against Covid-19 is facing a crisis,” said prime minister Chung Sye-kyun.

Mr Chung, who is leading the national response, acknowledged that the decision will inconvenience Seoulites and hurt small businesses.

“But we know from many experiences that we will face a bigger crisis if we don’t make the decision now,” he said.

South Korea this month launched a new five-tiered social distancing scheme after criticism that its earlier approach was too vague. Under the new scheme, the nation is divided into seven zones, meaning distancing rules can be applied differently in separate areas.

Today’s announcement, which follows new case numbers in the capital remain higher than 100 for more than a week, takes greater Seoul from “Level 1”, the lowest threat level, to “Level 1.5”.

“We need to raise our guard now that the hard-won balance of our anti-virus fight and daily life is facing another crisis,” Mr Chung said.

Korean officials reported 230 new virus cases nationwide on Tuesday, the fourth-straight day that the caseload has been above 200.

South Korea has won international praise for its handling of the pandemic after facing the worst outbreak outside of China as the virus spread from Wuhan in late February.

Health officials have since responded to flare-ups in transmission at various stages over the past nine months, prompting the country to tighten and loosen its rules.

The response, coupled with strong demand for electronics exports, has underpinned a comparatively robust performance for the South Korean economy.

In the third quarter the country reported its sharpest quarterly increase in gross domestic product in a decade.