COVID-19 cases in S Korea exceed 300 for first time since August

Stubborn cluster outbreaks prompt concern that country is on brink of another wave of the coronavirus.

South Korea is tightening physical distancing measures amid concerns it is facing a new wave of the pandemic [File: Yonhap via EPA]

South Korea reported 313 new daily COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the highest number since late August, as cluster infections continued to emerge from offices, medical facilities and small gatherings, underlining concerns that the country is facing another wave of the virus.

The country confirmed daily cases of more than 200 for five days in a row and exceeded 300 for the first time since August 29, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

The government has already announced that physical-distancing measures in the greater Seoul area will be tightened from Thursday in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.

“We’re in a crisis where there are pessimistic views that predict another nationwide transmission,” Vice Health Minister Kang Do-tae told a meeting.

“Infections are now occurring simultaneously in every corner of our society, real life situations, unlike the past when there were large outbreaks from a specific place or group.”

Of the new cases, 245 were locally transmitted and 68 imported. Nearly 74 percent of domestic infections came from the greater Seoul area, home to about half the country’s 52 million people.

South Korea has managed to control the virus through a policy of testing, tracing and isolation, but is tightening physical-distancing rules amid a sustained triple-digit increase in cases [Ed Jones/AFP]

Cases have been linked to a variety of settings and events including a hiking club, a sauna, a factory and family gatherings that authorities say make tracing and testing more complicated.

South Korea has now confirmed a total of 29,311 cases, with 496 deaths. Some 67 patients are seriously or critically ill with COVID-19.

From Thursday, public gatherings of 100 people or more will be banned, religious services and sporting events will be limited to 30 percent capacity, and high-risk facilities including clubs and karaoke bars will be required to ensure more space between patrons and set up partitions.

Health authorities have warned South Korea could report as many as 400 cases a day and further tightening of restrictions might be necessary if the situation does not stabilise over the next two weeks.

“It’s difficult to overcome this new crisis …,” Kang said, urging citizens to implement strict hygiene rules and minimise travel and year-end celebrations.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters