Se Eun Gong

SEOUL — South Korea's ruling Democratic Party suffered a devastating defeat in Wednesday's mayoral by-elections, widely considered a bellwether for next year's presidential race.

President Moon Jae-in's party lost both by large margins in the capital Seoul and the country's second biggest city, Busan, to the conservative opposition People Power Party (PPP).

South Korea on Tuesday tightened nationwide restrictions on gatherings and travel to suppress the country's third wave of coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic. Beginning Christmas Eve, South Koreans cannot eat out in groups larger than four. Skiing and skating venues will be closed.

Popular tourist destinations such as the Jeongdongjin beach on the eastern coast and Namsan park in central Seoul, typically swarmed on New Year's Day with people hoping to catch the first sunrise of the year, will be shut down.

In South Korea, churches resumed in-person services and stadiums welcomed sports fans over the weekend as the country once again manages to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The government eased social distancing restrictions after the country apparently dodged a surge in cases that was feared to follow the Chuseok national holiday in early October.

Masked mourners in spaced-out chairs bid goodbye to Park Won-soon, the deceased mayor of South Korea's capital Seoul, at his funeral on a rainy Monday morning. Colleagues and family members spoke of pain and sadness caused by the sudden death of the mayor known for his civic activism.

Hours later, a former secretary of Park's said through a representative that she "suffered and hurt alone during the long hours of silence" amid four years of alleged sexual harassment by Park.

South Korea has delayed reopening schools another week as dozens of new coronavirus cases linked to nightclubs in Seoul continue to emerge daily. Since a clubgoer tested positive last Wednesday, 102 infection cases from the cluster have been confirmed.

The country had prepared to start on-site classes this Wednesday in what would be another milestone in South Korea's steady recovery. New daily infections had stayed close to zero for days as the country eased social distancing restrictions last week and opened public museums and libraries for the first time in over 70 days.

A growing number of recovered COVID-19 patients are relapsing in South Korea, raising new questions and concerns among scientists and health authorities after the country successfully flattened the curve.

By Friday, Korean health authorities had identified 163 patients who tested positive again after a full recovery. The number more than doubled in about a week, up from 74 cases on April 9. Those patients — just over 2% of the country's 7,829 recovered patients — are now back in isolation.