South Korea has reported its highest ever daily jump in new COVID-19 infections as authorities considered imposing a semi-lockdown in the capital, Seoul.
The 1,275 new cases announced on Thursday marked the second straight day above 1,200 and exceeded the previous one-day record of 1,240 set at the peak of the country’s third wave in December.
More than 1,000 of the infections were in the greater Seoul area, which comprises the capital, Gyeonggi Province and Incheon city.
The area is home to half of South Korea’s 51 million people.
Jeong Eun-kyeong, who heads the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said South Korea was “at a stage of entering the fourth wave” and warned that the worst was yet to come.
If the trend continued, the number of daily new infections could cross 1,400 by the end of July, but if the outbreak worsened, the daily caseload could top 2,000 cases, she said.
Health authorities have previously said Seoul would meet the criteria for imposing Level 4 social distancing measures with a three-day streak of new case numbers above 389, the daily average from July 1-8. Given that the city’s case numbers topped 500 in the past two days, that requirement could be reached with Thursday’s numbers, which will be announced on Friday.
“We continue to review preemptive responses for the metropolitan Seoul area,” Son Young-rae, a health ministry official, told reporters.
Under Level 4 restrictions, people are advised to stay home as much as possible, schools are closed, public meetings are restricted to two people and rallies or other events are banned.
Nightclubs and bars would be shut while restaurants and cafes would be allowed limited seating and only take-out services after 10 pm.
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said the government would monitor the situation throughout the week and discuss potentially imposing higher restrictions in Seoul and other regions at a coronavirus response meeting on Sunday.
Authorities said on Wednesday the virus was spreading rapidly, especially among unvaccinated people in their 20s and 30s, while a growing number of highly contagious Delta variant cases raised new worries.
Just 10 percent of the country’s population of 52 million people have been fully vaccinated, while 30 percent have received at least one shot, the majority of them people over the age of 60.
South Korea’s total COVID-19 infections stand at 164,028, with 2,034 deaths.