World Insights: S.Korea's COVID-19 cases break record amid toughest social-distancing rules

2021-07-22 10:05:41 GMT2021-07-22 18:05:41(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

by Yoo Seungki

SEOUL, July 22 (Xinhua) -- South Korea's daily COVID-19 cases broke record for two straight days amid the toughest social-distancing rules in the Seoul metropolitan area, an epicenter of the fourth wave of the pandemic in the country.

The country reported 1,842 more COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, raising the total number of infections to 184,103, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said Thursday.

It marked the highest-ever daily caseload since its first case was found in January last year. It topped the prior high of 1,781 cases in the previous day.

FOURTH WAVE

The health authorities confirmed earlier this month that South Korea entered the fourth wave of the pandemic amid the outbreak of cluster infections in the greater Seoul area.

The daily caseload stayed above 1,000 for 16 days since July 7, with the daily average tally for the past week soaring to 1,513.

Cluster infections were found in every nook and corner, including restaurant, bar, school, workplace, indoor sports facility, department store and private cram school.

The resurgence has spread to the non-metropolitan area. The daily number of confirmed cases in the non-capital region hovered above 500 for the second consecutive day.

Concerns also emerged about the Delta variant. The KDCA warned against a possible faster spread of the Delta variant in August, saying that if things get worse, the number of daily COVID-19 cases here could surge to 2,140 by the end of July.

The daily cases reported Thursday included 270 sailors of the 301-strong Cheonghae unit, who had been dispatched to the waters off Africa on an anti-piracy mission but returned home as the majority of the sailors were infected with the virus.

The health authorities estimated that if the vaccination campaign is conducted as planned and people actively follow quarantine rules, the number of confirmed cases may decline to a range of 260 to 415 by the end of September.

FATIGUE, COMPLACENCY

Health officials blamed fatigue with the prolonged pandemic and complacency towards the quarantine rules for the latest resurgence.

Asked about the main cause of the resurgence, KDCA Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong told a parliamentary health committee last week that the announcement of revised social-distancing rules and incentive program for vaccinated people seemed to have delivered a message of eased quarantine rules to the public.

The health authorities announced plans last month to ease social-distancing guidelines from July by allowing larger private gatherings and longer business hours at restaurants and cafes, and offering incentives for inoculated people.

Jeong said the health authorities had discussed ways to harmonize the quarantine rules and the daily life of people amid the emerging fatigue with the pandemic and the quarantine measures.

Some medical experts attributed the resurgence to the introduction of self-testing kits.

Kim Mi-na, a professor of laboratory medicine at Asan Medical Center in Seoul, was quoted by the Yonhap news agency as saying cases were found of people who initially tested negative with the self-testing kits but tested positive later with the official PCR tests.

It raised the possibility of the so-called silent transmission among the infected people who tested negative with the self-testing kits.

The Seoul metropolitan government implemented a pilot project of using self-testing kits last month.

TOUGHEST SOCIAL DISTANCING RULES

To tackle the resurgence, the government adopted the toughest social-distancing rules in the greater Seoul area for two weeks until July 25.

According to local media, the government is highly likely to extend the Level 4 social-distancing guideline in Seoul, Gyeonggi province and Incheon as local epidemiological experts say it takes at least two weeks for the toughened quarantine measures to take effect.

Under the Level 4 guideline, any private gathering of three or more people is banned after 6 p.m. local time (0900 GMT) in the metropolitan area. Before 6 p.m., the gathering of as many as four people is allowed.

Risky entertainment facilities, including night club, are prohibited from running business for the two weeks. All the other multi-use facilities, such as restaurants and cafes, are allowed to open until 10 p.m. (1300 GMT).

The government also banned any gathering of five or more people in the non-capital area for two weeks until Aug. 1.

The ban was introduced to address the so-called "balloon effect" during the summer vacation season, when people in the metropolitan area move to the countryside to enjoy their summer holidays. Enditem

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