South Korea’s third wave of COVID could be biggest if not halted, official says

© Reuters. Couple wearing masks stand on a street amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Seoul

By Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea grappled with a resurgence of COVID-19 cases on Saturday, as a senior official warned it could be the country’s biggest wave of infections if the spread is not quickly contained.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 386 daily new cases of coronavirus as of midnight Friday, bringing the total number of infections to 30,403, with 503 deaths. New cases topped 300 for the fourth day in a row, after Tuesday saw the highest since August.

“We are at a critical moment; if we fail to block the current spread, we could face a significant nationwide infection that surpasses” the first two waves, said Lim Sook-young, head of the KDCA, during a press briefing. The country was hit by an increase in cases in late February-early March and August.

The standard for enforcing stricter social distancing measures is expected to be met soon, Lim said. The daily national tally is expected to reach 400 new cases next week and more than 600 in early December if the current rate of one patient infecting 1.5 people is not curbed, she added.

Due to recent infections that are spreading among university and private after-school schools, she especially urged young people to refrain from dating and get tested early.

South Korea tightened prevention guidelines Thursday ahead of the highly competitive annual college entrance exams on December 3, and Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Friday called for all social gatherings to be canceled, but bars , nightclubs, religious services and sporting events continue to be permitted with attendance restrictions.

South Korea is negotiating to secure COVID-19 vaccines for 30 million people, or about 60% of the population, of which vaccines for 10 million people are expected to be purchased through the global facility of COVID-19 vaccination known as COVAX, Lim said.

The Seoul metropolitan area recorded 262 new cases on Friday, up from 218 cases on Thursday.

Health officials have previously said that the capital region, where about half of the country’s 52 million people live and work, could be subject to tighter restrictions if the average daily infection over a week increases to 200 or more.

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