July 08, 2021 11:38
The government on Wednesday extended lockdown in the Seoul metropolitan region for another week and warned of a fourth wave of coronavirus as daily infections rose above 1,000 since the start of the week. Thursday morning's tally was 1,275 cases, the most since the coronavirus epidemic started.
"We're at the early stage of a fourth wave of the epidemic due to a spate of infections in the Seoul metropolitan area," health authorities said. "The current lockdown will be extended for another week until July 14."
That means gatherings of more than five people remain banned and restaurants, coffee shops and bars must close at 10 p.m. The Seoul Metropolitan Government also decided to reduce the number of buses and subways by 20 percent after 10 p.m.
If daily infections remain above 1,000, even more draconian measures are on the cards, including banning any gatherings after 6 p.m. Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said, "If the spread is not contained within two to three days, we could resort to the toughest social-distancing measures."
Group infections were found throughout the country. In a military boot camp in Nonsan, South Chungcheong Province, 53 conscripts tested positive. Long lines formed outside a makeshift facility in Seoul's Samseong-dong after a group infection was traced to Hyundai Department Store in Gangnam, where two food court workers tested positive on July 4. The number rose to 48 early Thursday morning and the mall closed on Wednesday and Thursday.
It will be difficult to find out exactly how many more people were infected there since the mall did not require visitors to register, but they could number in the hundreds or even thousands.
The highly-infectious Delta variant continues to spread, appearing in one out of every four new cases and especially among people in their 20s and 30s. Jung Ki-suck at Hallym University Sacred Heart Hospital said, "There is a chance of the daily number of infections surpassing 2,000, so we must bolster lockdown and expand testing."
The main reason for the increase seems to be premature slacking of lockdown discipline. Even though only 27 percent of Korea's 52 million people had received their first vaccine injection by June 17, the government promised to ease lockdown in July, and the hasty decision seems to have acted as a misleading all-clear.
In late May, the government also promised fully vaccinated people that they can remove their face masks outdoors and will be exempt from caps in the number of people allowed to gather. Late last month it also raised the number of people allowed to gather and eased curfews on restaurants, coffee shops and bars. Soon afterwards the number of daily infections, which hovered between 300 to 500, surged to over 700 last week and over 1,000 this week.
People who had only their first jab are apparently still vulnerable to the Delta variant, but health officials until recently said the variant is not spreading rapidly here and can be contained. Jung Jae-hun at Gachon University's Gil Medical Center said, "Health officials responded complacently because there have been fewer cases of variant infections here than in other countries."
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