South Korea has the second highest every day variety of COVID instances amid jail and church outbreaks
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A man undergoes a COVID-19 (coronavirus) test at a coronavirus testing site in Seoul
From Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea recorded the second highest daily number of coronavirus cases on Saturday as outbreaks in prisons, nursing homes and churches continued to rise, prompting authorities to suspend all year-end gatherings.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) announced that 1,132 new coronavirus cases emerged on Friday, not too far off from the record of 1,241 cases reported the day before.
“The virus spreads whenever and wherever it wants,” said Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol at a meeting within the agency, adding that people were also infected at small gatherings with friends and acquaintances.
“When we’re at the crossroads of the third wave, how we stop the spread depends on how we spend this year-end and New Year’s period.”
The government plans to hold a meeting on Sunday to discuss whether to tighten distancing rules for the greater Seoul area to the toughest level.
That would close another 1.2 million stores, leaving only essential workers in offices. Current curbs have closed nightclubs, karaoke bars, and other nighttime entertainment venues and have banned on-site eating after 9:00 p.m.
Before the Christmas and New Year holidays, the government also banned gatherings of more than four people in the greater Seoul area and closed ski resorts and other tourist attractions.
South Korea had largely managed to control early major outbreaks with aggressive testing and contact tracing. However, critics have accused the authorities of being overconfident and not properly preparing for the third and largest wave.
Currently the largest cluster is in a prison in east Seoul where 514 inmates and workers were infected, prompting health officials to test everyone there. The virus is likely to spread easily as the prison is made up of five high-rise buildings and suffers from overcapacity, a health official said.
South Korea’s total infections now stand at 54,770, with 773 deaths, KDCA data showed.
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