SEOUL - South Korea's president will suspend informal media briefings that he has held nearly every day since taking office in May, his office said on Monday, citing rising numbers of COVID-19 infections as a survey showed a fall in his approval ratings.
The end of the free-wheeling briefings, which broke with years of tradition as President Yoon Suk-yeol sought to step up transparency, also comes amid growing questions over scandal and party turmoil.
Yoon's approval ratings stood at 37%, pollster Realmeter's survey showed on Monday, down from more than 52% in the first week of June, while 57% now disapproved of his performance.
In its statement, Yoon's office said other coverage of the president would also be limited, with spokespersons switching to mainly written comments, along with photographs and videos of his events, rather than holding in-person briefings.
"In view of the vulnerability to the spread of infectious diseases, we ask for your understanding," it added.
Health authorities have warned the country is facing a new wave of infections, with some experts predicting hundreds of thousands of new cases in coming weeks.
Monday's 12,693 new COVID-19 infections took South Korea's tally to 18,524,583, with 18 deaths for a toll of 24,661 since the pandemic began.
After holding down infections and deaths for much of the pandemic with strict tracing, tracking and quarantine measures, the country dropped most curbs this year despite a huge wave of Omicron-variant infections.
Scandal has cost Yoon two nominees for a single ministerial position, a first in South Korea's history, and ethics questions have plagued several other picks for top office.
On Friday, his conservative People Power Party (PPP) was forced to suspend its leader Lee Jun-seok, 37, over accusations of sexual misconduct in 2013.
Lee has denied the allegations, vowed to appeal the suspension, and accused the party of using him for political gains, saying it waited until after the March election to look into punishing him.
His election last year as the youngest head of a major party in the country's history was seen as a bid to woo young people concerned over rising home prices, graft and the risk of being disadvantaged by government policies to benefit women.
Yoon's popularity has taken a particular hit among young people, with approval from just 30.9% of those in their 20s, the survey showed.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Soo-hyang Choi; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)