On Thursday 16th December, South Korea announced that it will be reintroducing tough Covid-19 restrictions just two months after they were reduced under a “living with Covid-19” policy. This is due to a recent surge in infections in the country, despite the population being highly vaccinated.
After a mass vaccination campaign earlier this year that led to a surge in vaccination rates, authorities eased covid restrictions. As a result of the vaccine drive, between 92-94% of adults in the country are reportedly fully vaccinated, and more than 15% have received booster jabs.
However, the high vaccination rate has caused the country’s worst Covid-19 outbreak since the start of the pandemic. Breakthrough cases are surging and spreading like wildfire, with the number of new cases surging almost five times higher than the previous record and the number of serious infections has tripled since the beginning of the vaccine program.
On Wednesday 15th December, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 7,622 new cases of coronavirus. This comes just one day after the country reported a new record-high daily count of 7,850 cases.
Additionally, the number of severe cases has also increased to a record-high of 989. 87% of intensive care units in the Seoul metropolitan area are reported to be occupied, and around 81% of intensive care units nationwide are used.
On Monday 13th December, it was reported that the daily death toll in South Korea hit its highest level, with 94 new Covid-19 deaths.
KDCA Commissioner Dr. Jeong Eun-kyeong warned that the number of new daily cases could go above 10,000 this month and over 20,000 in Jan. 2022.
Total cases in South Korea have now risen to 544,117, including 148 cases of the post-vaccine omicron variant, and 4,518 deaths. The KDCA has refused to release any data on how many of the new COVID-19 cases are fully vaccinated.
Just before the South Korean government announced new restrictions, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said that plans to relax current restrictions had been scrapped. He added that the government were planning on reintroducing restrictions such as social distancing, whereby there would be a ban on gatherings and a curfew imposed on dining in restaurants and other venues.
“We’re looking at the current situation very seriously, and seeking to implement even stronger social distancing measures,” said Kim.
It was revealed that the new rules, which since came into force on December 18th and will last until January 2nd, have an impact on cafes, bars, and other venues such as nightclubs. The restrictions mean that these venues can only stay open until 9pm, whilst other establishments such as cinemas, Internet cafes and concert halls can operate until 10pm.
Private gatherings are limited to no more than four people, so long as all four people are fully vaccinated.
Unvaccinated people are not permitted to attend private gatherings or eat out at restaurants unless they do so on their own. Otherwise, they will only be allowed to use takeaway or delivery services.
“We’re making all-out efforts to overcome the pressing crisis by expanding our medical capacity and vaccination campaign, but we need time,” said Kim when he announced the new restrictions. “We can go beyond this crisis only by beating down the current spread as soon as possible through strong social distancing.”
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