Thousands defy orders in wild pics
South Korea has tightened coronavirus measures in Seoul and its surrounding areas as the country reported the highest number of new daily infections in more than five months.
The shocking numbers were revealed after thousands of right-wing protestors rallied against President Moon Jae-in's centre-left government in the heart of Seoul on Saturday despite the calls to avoid large gatherings.
It came after doctors and medical students attended a rally against the government's medical plan on Friday in Seoul, who went on a one day strike nationwide in a bid to scrap the government's plan to expand the number of students at medical schools.
The tightened measures came as South Korea reported 166 new cases on Saturday, the highest daily figure since March 8, bringing the country's total infections to 15,039 with 305 deaths.
The country now stands at a "critical juncture" in the battle to control the coronavirus surge, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said at a government response meeting.
"Our top priority is to contain the spread of the virus in the greater Seoul area."
A majority of the new cases came from the greater Seoul region -- home to half of the country's 51 million people -- raising fears about a major spike with over the three-day weekend.
"This is a worry for the authorities," BBC Asia Pacific Editor Michael Bristow said.
Despite the outbreak and calls to avoid large gatherings, thousands of right-wing protestors rallied against President Moon Jae-in's centre-left government in the heart of Seoul on Saturday. Around 20,000 participated, according to the Yonhap news agency.
Over the weekend, doctors and medical residents also went on a one day strike nationwide to call for the government to scrap its plan to expand the number of students at medical schools.
There are concerns that the spread could worsen after the protests despite official pleas to stay home.
It appears the protests, organised by conservative activist and church groups, mainly involved people over 60, who are considered at higher risk for complications linked to COVID-19.
After resisting calls to strengthen social distancing for months because of concerns about further hurting the economy, the government of President Moon Jae-in has announced stronger measures for the Seoul area.
The two-week measures beginning Sunday advise high-risk facilities like nightclubs, karaoke bars, gyms and buffet restaurants to close or otherwise enforce distancing, temperature checks, keeping customer lists and mask wearing.
South Korea endured one of the worst early outbreaks outside mainland China but brought it broadly under control with extensive tracing and testing while never imposing the kind of lockdowns ordered in much of Europe and other parts of the world.
The country has been seen as a model on how to combat the pandemic with the public largely following safety health measures such as face masks.
The new, stricter social distancing guidelines include restrictions on gatherings and activities including professional sports, which will be played behind closed doors in the capital area again.
Originally published as Thousands defy orders in wild pics