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Edward White and Kang Buseong

South Korea introduced a new five-tier social distancing system after criticism that its system of setting rules that affect business and school closings was too vague.

The 52-meter country has received international praise for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, but officials have continued to grapple with sporadic outbreaks in transmission, causing the country to change its rules at various stages over the past eight months to tighten and loosen.

"We are trying to improve the effectiveness and compliance with the antivirus rules by tailoring the antivirus measures to be reconstructed," said Chung Sye-kyun, the prime minister in charge of the virus response, on Sunday.

Under the new system, the nation of South Korea also divides South Korea into seven zones, which means that distancing rules can be applied differently in separate areas.

At Level 1, the least severe phase that applies when the number of new cases averages less than 100 per day, people in high-risk establishments such as bars and nightclubs must continue to wear masks.

Level 1.5 begins when the daily case numbers are over 100 and stricter restrictions apply to multi-purpose facilities, including restaurants.

Guards in imperial uniforms wear masks in front of Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul

As soon as the daily average of new infections exceeds 300 per week, Level 2 will be introduced, prohibiting gatherings of more than 100 people and further tightening the rules for restaurants and other multi-purpose facilities.

At level 2.5 – introduced when the number of cases doubles or the daily average hits 400 – the government will ask the public to stay home.

The strictest phase, Level 3, comes into effect when the daily case numbers are above 800 and the areas or land are essentially completely closed.

Separately, the Seoul city government announced Monday a fine of 100,000 won (US $ 88) for anyone who does not wear masks in public.

"The purpose is not to impose fines, but to stop the spread of Covid-19 by following social distancing guidelines," a city official said.

South Korean health officials reported 97 new coronavirus infections on Monday.

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