Record COVID surge in South Korea despite tough distancing rules

Authorities call for ‘strict’ response against violations of COVID-19 rules as South Korea logs record high of 1,214 cases.

A woman walking on a street in Seoul, South Korea
Masked pedestrians walk through the quiet Myeong-dong shopping district in Seoul on December 23, 2020 as South Korea banned gatherings of more than four people in the capital and surrounding areas [Jung Yeon-je / AFP]

South Korea has reported its largest daily increase in coronavirus infections on Christmas Day as Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun pleaded for vigilance to contain a COVID-19 surge that has worsened hospitalisation and deaths.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 1,214 new cases on Friday, the highest daily count recorded, with a large outbreak at a prison in the capital, Seoul.

Some 288 cases were reported at the Dongbu Detention Centre, according to the Yonhap news agency.

South Korea had early success in quickly controlling outbreaks with aggressive testing and contact tracing but has struggled to contain the recent surge in cases.

Tougher restrictions to stem new cases were taken this week including a ban on gatherings of more than five people and ski resorts and tourist spots have been shut in a bid to stop the spread during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Greater Seoul is currently under level 2.5 restrictions – the second-highest in the nation’s five-tier system – with nightclubs closed and restaurants allowed to provide only deliveries and takeouts after 9pm (12:00 GMT).

Speaking at a coronavirus response meeting, Chung urged authorities to take “strict” action against violations of social-distancing rules, saying some restaurants and bars had been found to entertain guests after 9pm.

“A vast majority of the nation is faithfully adhering to the government’s antivirus measures despite the inconvenience and pain they entail, but if a few cheat for their own gains it is difficult to expect results from participating in the antivirus measures,” he was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency.

The KDCA said the national tally of confirmed cases now stood at 54,770 and there were 17 additional deaths bringing the total to 773.

Testing has been ramped up to track cases from unknown origin and infected people who are not displaying symptoms. Chung said the daily testing in Seoul and outlying regions have surpassed the 110,000 mark.

The South Korean government previously said it has secured access to vaccines for 46 million people, or about 90 percent of its population.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies