South Korea is to prohibit private social gatherings of five or more people nationwide and force restaurants to close at 9pm, rolling out the nation’s toughest COVID-19 restrictions yet as hospitals grapple with the deadliest month of the pandemic.
South Korean Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum yesterday said that the new measures would be enforced for at least 16 days after taking effect on Saturday, saying there is an urgent need to bring the country to a “standstill” with the Delta strain of SARS-CoV-2 overwhelming stretched hospitals and exhausted medical workers.
Schools in the densely populated capital, Seoul, and nearby metropolitan areas, where the virus has hit hardest, are also to go back to remote learning after fully reopening last month.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency yesterday reported 7,622 new cases, close to the daily record of 7,850 set a day earlier. That brought the national caseload to 544,117, with nearly 97,000 added this month alone.
Most of the transmissions were in the capital region, where officials say more than 86 percent of intensive care units designated for COVID-19 treatment are already occupied amid a spike in hospitalizations and deaths.
More than 890 virus patients died this month, bringing the nation’s death toll to 4,518. As of yesterday morning, a record 989 patients were in serious or critical condition.
“During this period of standstill, the government will reinforce the stability of our medical response capabilities,” Kim said during a COVID-19 meeting. “We ask our people to respond to these efforts by actively getting vaccinated.”
The viral surge has been a huge setback for the government, which had significantly eased social distancing rules last month while declaring a phased return to pre-pandemic normalcy.
While focusing on improving the economy, officials had predicted that the nation’s rising vaccination rates would keep hospitalizations and fatalities down, but there has been a surge in serious cases among people in their 60s or older, including those whose immunities have waned after getting inoculated early in the vaccine rollout that began in February.
More than 81 percent of the population of more than 51 million has been fully vaccinated, but only 17 percent of people have received booster shots.
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