Greater Seoul to remain under Level 2 restrictions next week
That announcement from the prime minister came as the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) warned that cases could rise dramatically in the coming days.
"According to some models put forward by infectious diseases experts, if the daily infections in Korea continue as they are, we could have from 800 to 2,000 new cases within a single day next week," said KCDC Director Jung Eun-kyeong, during a press briefing at the center's headquarters in North Chungcheong on Friday.
"If we do not gain a better control over the outbreak now, the exponential growth of patients can paralyze the health care system of Korea. We are at the moment in an emergency situation."
The government said it is not yet time, however, to hike the restrictions to Level 3 in Korea's three-tiered system of social distancing restrictions.
“We will extend the Level 2 social distancing measures in the greater Seoul area into next week, and make sure that it is implemented strictly and well adhered to,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Friday during a meeting at the government complex in central Seoul. “There have been requests to bring up the recommendation to Level 3, but that is the last resort to turn to when we have run out of other options, as it will have heavy consequences on the economy and society.”
Korea heightened its social distancing recommendations to Level 2 in Seoul and Gyeonggi on Aug. 16, and in Incheon on Aug. 19. Effective for two weeks, the measure was originally expected to be lifted at the end of the weekend.
The extension comes with several new restrictions. Only take-out orders will be permitted at all franchise cafes in the Seoul metro area, starting Sunday. The measure will stand through next week before the government holds another review.
All hagwon, or private cram schools, in the greater Seoul area were also ordered to close next week. Hagwon with more than 300 students had already been ordered closed since Aug. 19.
“They may mean further inconveniences to the people, but we need everyone’s cooperation,” Chung said.
The Level 2 guidelines ban any indoor gatherings of 50 people or more, and outdoor gatherings involving 100 people or more.
The recommendation for the rest of the country was also heightened to Level 2 on Aug. 23, to be effective for two weeks through Sept. 6.
On Aug. 19, the government issued a directive for several “high-risk” businesses to be closed, including clubs, bars that involve dancing and moving between tables, door-to-door sales businesses, large hagwon with 300 students or more, buffets, noraebang (singing rooms) and internet cafes.
Other popular businesses like restaurants, saunas and wedding halls were allowed to remain open, but were urged to ask all visitors to register their names and contact information upon their entrance.
A shift to Level 3 restrictions would include a ban on all gatherings of 10 or more people.
Korea saw an additional 359 domestic cases and 12 imported cases of coronavirus infections on Thursday, bringing the total number of infections to 19,077, according to Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).
Three people died of Covid-19 on Thursday, bringing the death toll to 316. The death rate in Korea’s Covid-19 outbreak is 1.66 percent.
Ninety people recovered Thursday, bringing the total recoveries to 14,551.
Of the domestic cases, 145 were in Seoul, 112 in Gyeonggi, 27 in Incheon, 17 in Gwangju, 12 in South Jeolla, nine in South Chungcheong, eight each in Busan and Daegu, three each in Gangwon and Daejeon, two each in Sejong, North Jeolla, South Gyeongsang and Jeju, and one each in Ulsan and North Gyeongsang.
Of the imported cases, three were from the United States, three from Indonesia, two each from India and Russia and one each from Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
After a reporter who had been covering events at the National Assembly tested positive Wednesday, members of the Assembly found to have been at the same events as the reporter underwent testing, including the ruling Democratic Party’s Lee Hae-chan and floor leader Kim Tae-nyeon. Both tested negative.
The Assembly has been shut down since Thursday.
BY ESTHER CHUNG [email@example.com]