Medical personnel collect samples at a temporary screening laboratory in Seoul Station Square on Wednesday morning. (Yonhap)
South Korea’s COVID-19 situation continued to deteriorate Wednesday with 2,223 new cases reported Wednesday. This is the first time Korea’s daily tally has risen above 2,000 since the pandemic began last year.
The cases are unlikely to drop anytime soon as highly contagious delta variants have become the dominant strain of the coronavirus in line with holiday season and slow inoculation, experts say.
Health Minister Kwon Deok-chul said a meeting on the day, “Although we have been limiting the spread with strong quarantine measures, movement between regions has been on the rise due to the holiday season.”
“The number of confirmed cases has increased in major tourist destinations, such as Gangwon (Province), Busan and Gyeongnam (South Gyeongsang Province). And the cases in greater Seoul areas are rising again due to (tourists’) return after vacation.”
Of the newly confirmed cases, 2,145 were locally transmitted, with the greater Seoul area accounting for 65.5 percent with 1,405 people testing positive in Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and Incheon.
In line with the holiday season, cases outside the wider Seoul areas accounted for over 44 percent of the total.
Minister Kwon said cases also surge as COVID-19 variants spread.
“The number of confirmed cases has been increasing due to the spread of the delta variants, which are highly contagious,” Kwon said.
“There are cases of mass infection centered on businesses, indoor sports facilities, churches and nursing hospitals. We are entering a new phase, a new crisis, in response to COVID-19.”
Between Aug. 1 and Aug. 7, a total of 2,641 people have been confirmed to have contracted the four major strains of the virus. Among them, the delta variant accounted for 96.7 percent of the total with 2,555 patients.
“As the percentage of delta variants rises, fatigue of social distancing increases and the vaccination rate does not go up rapidly, the number of infections will not go down dramatically,” said Chung Jae-hoon, a professor of preventive medicine at Gachon University.
To stop the further spread, he said it was necessary for areas outside the greater Seoul region to introduce Level 4 social distancing, the toughest level of government restrictions, which are currently being implemented in the greater Seoul areas.
Worries about further spread of virus are also rising as a number of organizations plan to push ahead with rallies during the Liberation Day holiday, which falls on Aug. 15.
The conservative Christian National Revolutionary Party led by Rev. Jeon Kwang-hoon of Sarang Jeil Church also reiterated on Tuesday that it would forge ahead with a large-scale series of one-man protest during the Liberation Day holiday to protest against the current administration.
According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the police, 41 organizations reported that they would hold a total of 316 rallies in downtown Seoul during the three days. On Aug. 15 of Liberation Day, 38 organizations reported 190 rallies. The Seoul Metropolitan Government and the police have notified them of the ban on all of the rallies.
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon said Tuesday that he would file a complaint against organizers and participants for violating the Infectious Disease Prevention Act if illegal rallies are pushed ahead during the Liberation Day holiday.
At a staff meeting Wednesday, President Moon Jae-in has asked for the cooperation of the public once again and pledged to do his best to stabilize the spread of the infection.
Moon said, “Despite the cooperation and cost of the public and the efforts of public health authorities, the number of daily confirmed cases has exceeded 2,000 people.”
“The recent increase in the number of confirmed cases is a global phenomenon caused by the spread of delta variants and Korea remains relatively better than other countries. But this could be a turning point for more confirmed cases if we fail to stop the current spread of infection.”