August 18, 2020 11:15
Experts are warning of a second wave of coronavirus infections as new cases have been found in the triple digits for four days running. Some 801 new infections have been reported nationwide since last week, straining hospital resources.
On Aug. 15 alone, some 245 coronavirus new infections were reported, the highest daily number since March 7.
Jung Eun-kyeong, the chief of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday that new cases are spreading at a "frightening" speed across the country, many "showing light or no symptoms."
"We consider the current situation as the early stage of mass infections," Jung said. "Unless we control the situation right now, we face a crisis... that could lead to a collapse of the medical system resulting in massive economic damage."
Health and Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo earlier said the next two weeks will determine whether Korea faces a second wave.
The resurgence in the Seoul metropolitan area is more serious than the mass infections in Daegu in February and March. Back then, the number of infections surged from 100 a day to 900 in just eight days. Daily new cases rose from 200 to 500 a day afterwards, and some patients died at home due to a lack of hospital beds.
But the population of 26 million in the Seoul metropolitan area is more than 10 times bigger than Daegu's, with group infections being detected in churches, markets, coffee shops and schools rather than just a single religious sect. That makes it more difficult for health officials to track the routes of infection.
The government last week tightened social-distancing requirements in Seoul and surrounding Gyeonggi Province for two weeks. Libraries, art galleries and museums will have to limit the number of visitors to 50 percent of capacity, and childcare facilities and kindergartens have been urged to close. Sports events must be played without spectators again while large gatherings of more than 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors are banned.
Some experts urge even tougher measures.
Korea reported another 246 new cases as of Tuesday morning, tallying 991 cases in the last five days and bringing the total to 15,761.
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