South Korea appears set to extend Level 2.5 social distancing rules for another week in the Greater Seoul area to contain the spread of COVID-19 as the country sees no definite slowdown in the infection rate despite weeks of stricter social distancing in place.
“The number of cases has been somewhat declining recently, but it is yet to be clearly stabilizing,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said at a pan-government meeting on the country’s response to COVID-19. Korea reported 198 new COVID-19 cases Friday – 189 locally transmitted and nine imported — posting fewer than 200 for the second consecutive day. The total caseload rose to 20,842, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Rather than hastily relax quarantine measures, we should do everything in our power to overturn the current phase,” he said, asking for understanding and patience. The final decision is to be announced on Friday afternoon at a regular briefing by the Central Disaster Safety and Countermeasure Headquarters on COVID-19.
The level of social distancing in the Seoul metropolitan area – home to nearly half of the country’s population — was raised to Level 2 on Aug. 16 and to Level 2.5 on Aug. 30. Other parts of the country have had Level 2 social distancing guidelines in place since Aug. 23.
Under the Level 2.5 social distancing campaign, which was to end Sunday, operating hours were slashed for restaurants, bakeries, and bars, with only takeout and delivery services allowed after 9 p.m. Dining in was banned at franchise coffee chains, with an only takeaway and delivery services allowed. Private cram schools and indoor sports facilities were shut down. About 380,000 restaurants and bakeries, 63,000 private cram schools, and 28,000 sports facilities in the Seoul metropolitan area have been affected by the tighter social distancing rule.
Korea’s daily new COVID-19 cases stayed below 300 for the sixth consecutive day on Friday, but health authorities are on high alert over surges in the number of patients with severe symptoms or unclear infection routes, as well as the sporadic virus outbreaks popping up across the country.
The number of COVID-19 patients in serious or critical conditions hit a record high of 157 as of midnight Friday, up 3 from a day earlier, raising fears over a possible shortage of hospital beds. This marks a 17-fold increase from only nine people on Aug. 18.
Transmission routes were unidentified for 24.4 percent of the new cases reported from Aug. 21-Sept. 3, according to the KCDC, which could mean the virus is being spread silently. COVID-19 cases linked to the Sarang Jeil Church and to a massive rally held in central Seoul on Aug. 15, which are at the center of the second wave of COVID-19 here, rose to 1,139 and 462, respectively, as of Thursday at noon.
Recommended Korea Tour Packages
Of the locally transmitted cases, the vast majority were still registered in the Seoul metropolitan area – 68 in Seoul, five in neighboring Incheon, and 55 in Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds the capital.
Outside the Seoul metropolitan area, 20 cases were reported in South Chungcheong Province after another cluster of infections was found at a kimchi manufacturing factory in Cheongyang-gun in the province. Since the initial patient tested positive Wednesday, 22 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus as of Friday.
Ten cases were registered in Gwangju, seven in Daegu, four each in North Province and North Gyeongsang Province, three each in Busan, Daejeon, Ulsan, Gangwon Province, and South Gyeongsang Province, and one in South Jeolla Province.
Of the nine imported cases, five were identified while the individuals were under mandatory self-quarantine in Korea, with the other four detected during the quarantine screening process at the border. Two cases came from China, two from other parts of Asia, Europe, and the Americas, and one from Africa. Four of the newly diagnosed people were foreign nationals. So far, 15,783 people, or 75.73 percent, have been released from quarantine upon making full recoveries, up 254 from a day earlier. Some 4,728 people are receiving medical treatment under quarantine.
Two more people died of the coronavirus, bringing the death toll to 331. The overall fatality rate amounted to 1.59 percent. The country has carried out 2,018,906 tests since Jan. 3, with 52,266 people awaiting results as of Friday.
Source: The Korea Herald