South Korea will be imposing level three social distancing rules for all regions outside the capital area starting Tuesday.
The decision was made in a meeting Sunday of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters chaired by President Moon Jae-in.
Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi-do Province will remain under the toughest restrictions of level four for another two weeks.
"The greatest concern recently has been the rise [of infections] outside the capital area. The central and local governments must respond under a pan-national system. I ask for strengthened inspections at places vulnerable to infection, such as vacation spots and public-use facilities, and for strict crackdowns on violations of the anti-virus measures."
Level three restrictions permit private gatherings of up to four people and allow no more than 49 people to attend gatherings like weddings and funerals while restaurants and cafes have to close at 10 PM.
Given the severity of the situation across the country, Sunday's meeting, usually led by the prime minister, was chaired by the president and was attended by the mayors and governors of all 17 cities and provinces in the country.
Moon said South Korea is at a critical juncture, calling for all resources to be directed at virus prevention.
He thanked medical and quarantine staff for their tireless efforts and asked the public to endure the stronger restrictions for a little longer.
"I am very sorry that the suffering people are dealing with has been extended. Although it will be difficult, I ask for a little more of the patience you have shown during the past two weeks to quickly overcome this crisis."
Moon also vowed to swiftly implement the extra budget that passed the National Assembly on Saturday to give a helping hand to small business owners and the self-employed who've been hit by the stronger restrictions.
The president also stressed that the country's vaccination campaign will pick up speed from Monday with inoculations starting for those in their 50s, and he called for thorough preparations so that those in their 40s and below can be vaccinated starting next month.
Kim Min-ji, Arirang News.