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S. Korea orders high-risk businesses to close as cases surge in Seoul

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SEOUL: South Korea yesterday ordered nightclubs, museums and buffet restaurants closed and banned large gatherings in and around the capital as a burst of new cases sparked fears of a second wave.

The country's "trace, test and treat" approach has been held up as a global model, but it is now battling clusters mostly linked to Protestant churches.

Authorities reported 246 new infections yesterday, taking South Korea's total to 15,761, the fifth consecutive day of triple-digit increases after several weeks with numbers generally in the 30s and 40s.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said 12 high-risk business categories, including nightclubs, karaoke bars and buffet restaurants will cease operations from today in Seoul, Incheon and the neighbouring Gyeonggi province.

All public institutions in the areas, such as museums, will also close, he added, while indoor gatherings of more than 50 people, and outdoor ones of more than 100, will also be prohibited.

Between them, the three areas account for half of South Korea's population.

"If we can't get the virus under control now we'll have to notch up social distancing to higher levels, and that would have a big impact on our economy and people's livelihoods," Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said.

All church gatherings had already been banned in Seoul and Gyeonggi since Saturday, while sports events went behind closed doors again.

The largest current cluster is centred on the Sarang Jeil Church in Seoul, headed by a controversial conservative pastor who has tested positive.

Some 457 cases are linked to that church as of yesterday, but health authorities said the current situation was a "much bigger crisis" than South Korea's initial outbreak, when more than 5,000 people connected to a religious sect were infected.

Another cluster has been traced to a Starbucks outlet outside Seoul with seven new cases, taking the tally there to 49. - AFP, REUTERS