• Reuters

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South Korea began fining people who fail to wear masks in public on Friday as it reported 191 new coronavirus cases, with daily infections continuing to creep higher.

People caught without masks in public venues, including nightclubs, malls, theme parks and hair salons, face fines of up to 100,000 won ($89.75), while the operators of those places could pay up to 3 million won in fines.

The country had been praised for its response to the pandemic including aggressive testing and contact tracing, but has struggled to contain small cluster outbreaks, with daily cases hovering around 100 in recent weeks.

The strengthening of the policy comes as authorities also expanded mandatory mask usage earlier this month to 23 new types of places, including spas, wedding halls and department stores.

Of the new cases, 162 were locally transmitted and over 50% of the infections in the past two weeks were from the densely populated metropolitan Seoul area, according to health authorities.

The new cases brought the country’s total number of infections to 28,133 as of Thursday midnight with COVID-19 deaths reaching 488, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

The government is in final talks with global drugmakers over potential COVID-19 vaccines as it seeks to secure supplies to cover 60% of its population this year.

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