COVID-19 cases hit 3-month high in South Korea amid growing outbreak

SEOUL, April 14 (UPI) — South Korea reported 731 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, the highest total in over three months, as health officials warned of a looming fourth wave of the virus and cautioned that stricter distancing measures may be in store.

The new daily infections, the most since 869 cases were recorded on Jan. 7, brought South Korea’s total caseload to 111,419, with 1,742 deaths reported, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

Health officials said Wednesday that a nearly 15% increase in travel over the past weekend is a worrying indicator that a fourth wave of infections may be looming.

“These levels are similar to November before the third major outbreak,” Yoon Tae-ho, a senior KDCA official, said at a press briefing Wednesday.

Yoon said the travel amid warmer spring weather indicates people are letting up their guard against the virus.

“This movement increase was due to seasonal factors,” he said. “However, we believe that this also shows how we became complacent about social-distancing measures.”

Yoon added that authorities would consider adjusting social-distancing schemes and business restrictions if the virus spread does not let up.

Currently, the greater Seoul metropolitan area, home to around half of South Korea’s 52 million population, is under Level 2 distancing measures, the third-highest on the country’s five-tier system.

Under the scheme, which is in place until at least May 2, facilities such as restaurants, gyms and cafes must close by 10 p.m., nightclubs with dancing are not allowed to operate and private gatherings are restricted to five people.

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, who was elected last week in a landslide win, has called for the government to approve the use of rapid COVID-19 self-testing kits, which he said would allow businesses to extend their operating hours.

South Korea’s inoculation program is still in its early stages, with some criticizing the government for a slow procurement and rollout of vaccines.

The country has vaccinated nearly 1.24 million people, according to KDCA data on Wednesday, with some 60,000 receiving a second dose.

Inoculations began in late February for frontline workers and residents in high-risk facilities such as nursing homes. At the beginning of April, the vaccination program expanded to those age 75 and over in the general public.

South Korea is using vaccines by AstraZeneca and Pfizer, but the government has placed orders with Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, which will give the country enough doses for 79 million people.

Health officials have announced a goal of vaccinating 12 million people by June and achieving herd immunity by November.

“This movement increase was due to seasonal factors,” he said. “However, we believe that this also shows how we became complacent about social-distancing measures.”


Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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