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From South Korea Health minister said Monday that the Seoul metropolitan area is now a “COVID-19 war zone “as the country reported another 615 new infections and the virus appeared to spread more rapidly.

Meanwhile, the president called for expanding testing and contact tracing. The country has recorded more than 5,300 new infections in the last 10 days and Monday was the 30th consecutive day of daily triple-digit jumps.

Most of the cases come from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where half of South Korea’s 51 million people live. As people increasingly venture out into public and spend more hours indoors amid cold temperatures, healthcare workers have struggled to stop transmissions linked to restaurants, saunas, schools, hospitals, and long-term care facilities. .

Seoul, South Korea
People wearing face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus walk past a sign emphasizing an enhanced social distancing campaign at a bus station in Seoul, South Korea, on December 7, 2020. (AP)

“The capital area is now a COVID-19 war zone,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said at a meeting on viruses, calling for citizen vigilance.

He said the country may have to increase social distancing to prevent the resurgence in the capital area from “exploding into a major outbreak across the country and collapsing the health care system.”

Na Seong-woong, a senior official at Korea’s Disease Prevention and Control Agency, told reporters that the country could be reporting around 900 new infections a day next week if it fails to slow down the virus quickly.

While South Korea managed to contain a major outbreak in its southeastern region in the spring by channeling resources and health personnel nationwide, it is less clear where reinforcements will come from if the virus wreaks havoc in the Seoul area.

While President Moon Jae-in’s government had been eager to tout the country’s previous gains against the virus, there is criticism that it gambled on its own success by moving swiftly to ease social distancing restrictions to the lowest level in October, even when the virus was still spreading. .

Authorities have moved to restore some distancing restrictions in the Seoul area in recent weeks, closing nightclubs, karaoke rooms and gyms, reducing in-person school classes and allowing restaurants to offer only deliveries and take-out afterwards. from 9 pm

Seoul city officials have also cut public transportation after 9 p.m. to discourage unnecessary gatherings, though some say the move could backfire by making buses and subways more crowded.

Some health experts have backed tougher restrictions, such as banning all gatherings of more than 10 people, closing schools and churches, and requiring companies to have more employees working from home.

Seoul, South Korea
Medical workers transport a coronavirus-infected patient to an ambulance at an elderly care facility in Ulsan, South Korea, on December 7, 2020. (AP)

Moon on Monday expressed concern that healthcare workers are increasingly struggling to trace transmission routes amid rising infections and urged officials to deploy the “maximum available manpower” of public officials, police and the military to assist with contact tracing efforts in the capital area, their spokesman Chung Man-ho said.

Chung said Moon also instructed officials to keep more test stations open during night hours or holidays and install more “drive-through” configurations that allow workers to collect samples from drivers through car windows. .

He also asked “any citizen who has the slightest suspicion of being infected to visit a screening center to get tested,” Chung said.

During a separate briefing, Na said health officials are planning to adopt new testing techniques, including rapid antigen tests and sage-based tests, so they can detect potential carriers of the virus more quickly.

The country relies primarily on a diagnostic test method called PCR, which is more accurate but also more complicated.

The country has reported 38,161 infections since the pandemic began and 549 deaths.

– Reported with Associated Press

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