A student gets his temperature measured when returning to school in Seoul on May 27, 2020.

  • South Korea is shutting parks, museums, and art galleries around Seoul for two weeks from Friday and is urging people to socially distance after recording a new spike in coronavirus cases.
  • The country started easing its restrictions on May 6, and businesses and schools have been cautiously reopening.
  • But it recorded 79 new cases on Thursday, its highest since it saw 81 new cases on April 5.
  • The health minister warned more steps would need to be taken if the new outbreak isn't brought under control, saying: "We will have to return to social distancing if we fail."
  • South Korea, which relied on mass testing and tracing, has been hailed as a model for controlling the virus as it has reported only 269 deaths even though it was one of the first-hit countries.
  • What happens as it eases restrictions offer lessons to other countries as they reopen.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

South Korea is closing all its parks, museums, and art galleries across Seoul, and warned it may have to reimpose more sweeping restrictions after seeing its largest single-day jump in coronavirus cases in over 50 days.

The country, which has been gradually reopening since May 6, recorded 79 new coronavirus cases on Thursday. That is its highest daily new cases since it reported 81 new infections on April 5.

Park Neung-hoo, South Korea's health minister, said the closures would start on Friday and run for two weeks.

He also warned that more steps would need to be taken if the country records more than 50 new cases a day for seven days in a row, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

"The next two weeks are crucial to prevent the spread of the infection in the metropolitan area," he said.

"We will have to return to social distancing if we fail."

Park said that companies should try to introduce flexible working again to try and stop the spread, and that people have been urged to socially distance and avoid crowded places or stores.

Most of the new cases reported on Thursday had spread locally, rather than from someone who entered the country from abroad, and most were recorded in the Seoul area.

Many of the cases also stem from a logistics warehouse west of the capital city, and the country's deputy health minister said more cases are expected to come from the workers and visitors, who are in self-isolation, AFP reported.

The Korean Centers for Disease Control said Thursday: "In light of the recent rise in local transmissions related to places of business, religious facilities, bars, restaurants and others, KCDC urged people to refrain from social gathering or visiting any enclosed/confined/crowded spaces that are frequented by many people."

It also urged people who need to go to busy areas to stay two meters apart, wear a face mask, and take steps like washing their hands.

Park also said: "We have decided to strengthen all quarantine measures in the metropolitan area for two weeks from tomorrow to June 14."

Any failure to stop the spread in South Korea has lessons for the rest of the world who are easing or looking to ease restrictions without causing a spike in infections.

The country's response to the coronavirus has been hailed internationally as an example of best practice. Instead of a full-scale lockdown it relied on mass testing, tracking technology, and tracing those who had come into contact with people who tested positive.

The country was one of the first outside of China to record a case, in mid-February. Now, months later, it has only recorded 269 deaths and just over 11,300 cases.

It even said it managed to avoid recording any new cases when 29 million people who voted in a parliamentary election in April. Voters were made to wear masks and gloves.

Employees in a Seoul factory cafeteria sit behind protective screens as they eat to avoid the spread of the coronavirus in April 2020.

While the country has largely relied on urging people to socially distance, it also introduced measures like closing schools and urging companies to give employees flexible time off.

Bars and nightclubs in Seoul were ordered to close earlier in May when new cases were connected to them.

But people's increased movements as restrictions are lifted have made it harder to track how the virus is spreading, warned Jeong Eun-kyeong, the director of the KCDC, The Guardian reported.

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