Passengers wait outside a bus terminal in Seoul`s southern Seocho district on Friday. (Yonhap)
Most Koreans remain just partly vaccinated as the nation heads into Chuseok, for which many will have time off from Saturday to Wednesday.
As Greater Seoul, which has been Korea’s COVID-19 epicenter since spring last year, continues to report the highest numbers of new cases by far, municipalities are wary of visitors from the capital area bringing the virus with them over the holiday.
“The long weekend could prove a catalyst for a surge, once again,” acting Gov. Koo Man-sub of Jeju Island, a popular holiday destination, said at a briefing ahead of the weekend, calling on outsiders to stay away unless they are fully vaccinated. Based on air bookings and other data, some 200,000 people are expected to visit the island this Chuseok, he said.
Gangwon Province, known for its beaches and mountains, likewise said it would prefer to steer clear of visitors. “Don’t come,” read a message from the provincial public health authorities. “Put off your plans until more of us are vaccinated.”
Although the limit on private gatherings and other rules have been eased ahead of Chuseok, mingling or traveling is “strongly advised against” for people who are partly or not yet vaccinated.
This means that the nearly 60 percent of Koreans who are not fully vaccinated had better stay put.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, 69 percent of 51 million people in the country have had at least a single dose as of Friday, while 41 percent have completed their full vaccination series.
Lee Ki-il, a senior Ministry of Health and Welfare official, told Friday’s news briefing that people who had only one dose or none at all are recommended to get a test and ensure they are negative if they decide to travel.
“Increases in travel during Chuseok could drive the spread from Seoul to the rest of the country,” he said, once again urging “incompletely vaccinated folks” to “not take risks.”
Last week, cases traced to Greater Seoul -- consisting of Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and Incheon -- accounted for 75 percent of all cases logged nationwide. Seoul in particular had the highest incidence of new cases anywhere at 6.7 per 100,000 people.
Friday’s count of new cases rose past 2,000 for the second time this week. As of Thursday afternoon, 25,455 patients with an active infection were still being treated, down from the Aug. 22 peak of 27,864, but high enough to crowd more than 60 percent of hospital beds across the country.
To ease the burden on health care systems, Korea said it was abandoning its “isolate all” policy, and having patients who are without severe symptoms at the time of diagnosis stay home instead of going to hospitals or other facilities designed to treat COVID-19.
Since the pandemic began, 281,938 people have been infected with COVID-19 in Korea, according to official statistics, of whom 2,389 have died.
By Kim Arin (email@example.com