By Sangmi Cha and Josh Smith SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea relaxed some of its stricter social distancing rules for businesses on Monday, but kept limits on private meetings as authorities prepared to reveal plans to launch the first vaccines against coronavirus later this month. . The decision comes after a mild Lunar New Year holiday last week. Daily coronavirus infections recovered to more than 400 before the break, but have declined since then and the Korea Disease Prevention and Control Agency (KDCA) reported 344 new infections as of midnight Sunday. The country plans to begin its vaccination program from February 26, details of which will be announced by the head of the KDCA later in the day. Healthcare workers and senior residents will be among the first to be vaccinated. However, Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol called for caution as clusters of infections continue to plague the densely populated capital of Seoul and neighboring areas. “There is always the concern of the transmission of movements during the Lunar New Year holidays,” he told a government meeting. “But if we let our guard down amid easier social distancing measures, infections will pick up again.” Almost 80% of the new cases reported during the holidays occurred in the Seoul area, highlighting the continuing threat, it added. Some restrictions have been relaxed in the Seoul metropolitan area, starting Monday. The 9pm curfew for restaurants and cafes has been postponed to 10pm, while bars and nightclubs have been able to reopen, but with a 10pm curfew and a limited number of customers. Curfews have been eliminated in cinemas, Internet cafes, “intensive schools”, theme parks, large supermarkets and hair salons. Outside of the Seoul metropolitan area, there are now no corporate curfews, while attendance limits have been lowered for churches and sporting events. Private gatherings of more than four people are still banned across the country. The country had reported a total of 83,869 COVID-19 infections as of Sunday, with 1,527 deaths.
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