By Sangmi Cha
SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea announced on Friday that people visiting restaurants and cinemas and other public spaces will have to show vaccine passes, amid a surge in COVID-19 infections and six confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.
The government also re-imposed limits on private gatherings, which had been recently relaxed, as the country posted record numbers of new cases this week.
Desperate to fend off the Omicron variant, authorities halted quarantine exemptions on Friday for fully vaccinated inbound travellers and made a 10-day quarantine mandatory.
From next Monday, people visiting 14 designated public spaces, including hospitality and entertainment venues, will have to show their vaccine passes, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum told a COVID-19 response meeting, setting out the plan to reduce the risk of community spread. The public will have a grace period of a week to get used to the new rules.
While people have been required to show their vaccine pass at high-risk venues such as gyms, saunas and bars, it is the first time that the requirement has been extended to restaurants and cafes.
From February, anyone aged 12 years or older will have to show a vaccination pass. The government decided to lower the exemption age, currently set at 17 years, to encourage teenagers to get vaccinated as the under-18 age group accounts for 20% of all infections, Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol told a briefing.
The limit on private gatherings was cut to six people in the greater Seoul area, and eight outside, from the current limit of 10 in Seoul and 12 outside, Kwon said.
South Korea has so far confirmed a total of six Omicron cases after a fully vaccinated couple tested positive for the variant after arriving last week from Nigeria. The patients are either asymptomatic or have mild symptoms such as headache, low-grade fever, dizziness and sore throat, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
Health authorities in Incheon city were testing 400 people who attended a church service along with the family member of one of the people infected with Omicron. The relative had tested positive for coronavirus, but tests had yet to show whether it was the Omicron variant.
People do not have to show proof of vaccination for religious services, weddings, funerals, or when they visit theme parks or hair salons, the health ministry said.
KDCA reported 4,944 COVID-19 cases for Thursday, a slight decline from record high 5,266 cases on Wednesday. It has reported a total of 462,555, with 3,739 deaths overall.
South Korea has fully vaccinated 91.6% of its adult population aged 18 and over, yet the booster dose uptake remains at 8.1%.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)