New virus cases pass 2,000 again, first for September
Korea’s daily new coronavirus cases surged to over 2,000 again on Wednesday, putting health authorities on high alert ahead of the country’s major national holiday coming up in less than two weeks.
Korea reported 2,050 more confirmed cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday, including 2,014 local infections, bringing the total caseload to 265,423, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) that day.
This is the first time cases topped 2,000 this month.
“This is the time when we should tighten our guards as the new social distancing measures have taken effect,” Second Vice Health Minister Kang Do-tae said during a virus response meeting Wednesday.
Korea extended its toughest social distancing measures again on Monday, which have been in place for over two months, but added a few incentives for fully vaccinated people such as exempting up to four fully vaccinated people from the limit on social gatherings.
“The next four weeks will be critical,” Kang said. The Chuseok harvest holidays, which fall on Sept. 20 to 22, will be covered by these distancing regulations.
“If the wave of infections rises once again and the number of confirmed cases continues to increase, our community's race toward a step-by-step recovery to normal life will be further delayed,” Kang said.
The recent resurgence was attributed to cluster infections in Seoul and its surrounding areas, which triggered Korea's still ongoing fourth wave of the pandemic in July.
Of Wednesday's local infections, 73.3 percent were in the greater capital area. Seoul posted 665 new cases, Gyeonggi 691 and Incheon 120 — altogether the highest figure for the area since the pandemic began.
The remaining 26.7 percent of local transmissions were spread across other parts of the country, with 84 in South Chungcheong, 69 in South Gyeongsang, 60 in Daegu, 47 in Ulsan and 43 in Gwangju.
Four more virus deaths were added, raising the death toll to 2,334.
The recent resurgence is particularly alarming as the Chuseok harvest holidays are soon arriving, when culturally thousands of people travel across the country to meet relatives and hold traditional family ancestral rites. The government earlier urged people to hold their rituals online and encouraged ordering gifts online to send to people instead of visiting in person.
Adding to the government’s measures, the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs announced Wednesday that they will close national cemeteries during Chuseok to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The Veterans’ Ministry said visits to 11 cemeteries in Korea, including those in Seoul and Daejeon, will be restricted from Sept. 18 to 22, and instead advised people to hold rituals remotely through each cemetery’s online platform.
Korea is receiving more vaccine supplies while ramping up vaccinations in a bid to administer at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine to 36 million people, or 70 percent of the population, before Chuseok.
As of Tuesday midnight, 61 percent of the population have received one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, while 36.6 percent have been fully vaccinated, the KDCA said.
Following the shipment of 1.39 million doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine that arrived late on Tuesday night, Korea received 3.42 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine Wednesday afternoon. Both were procured through direct contracts with the pharmaceutical companies.
The second batch of vaccines procured under a swap deal with Romania — giving Korea 526,500 Pfizer doses and 450,000 Moderna shots — also arrived Wednesday afternoon.
With the extra doses having arrived in the country, health authorities showed confidence that the vaccination goal set for before Chuseok is likely to be met.
“Considering the amount of vaccines procured and that will come in, the amount is more than expected to achieve the milestone of administering first doses to 70 percent of the nation,” Park Hyang, director of antivirus measures at the Central Disaster Management Headquarters, said during a briefing Tuesday.
“There shouldn't be any supply issue either in reaching the goal of administering second doses to 70 percent of the nation by the end of October,” Park added, urging the public to refrain from worrying over the vaccine procurement and actively participate in the vaccination campaign.
Meanwhile, thousands of small business owners in Korea are set to hold nationwide "rolling" rallies, or rallies people hold in their cars, once again on Wednesday night, complaining of growing pandemic fatigue and damage from the distancing restrictions.
The National Emergency Committee for Small Business Owners, formed by 22 associations of businesses like restaurants and PC bang (internet cafes), said the rallies are to be staged in nine regions, including Seoul, Ulsan, and the provinces of North Jeolla, South Gyeongsang and Gangwon, from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.
They are demanding the government relax distancing measures and provide more compensation for financial losses stemming from the distancing scheme. Under the government's social distancing rules, many small businesses including cafes, restaurants, noraebang (singing rooms) and gyms have been subject to 9 or 10 p.m. curfews, or shut down for months.
However, as all types of protests and rallies, except for one-man rallies, are prohibited under Level 4 distancing measures in the greater Seoul area, the police warned that it would take strict measures against such “illegal” rallies and warned they would set up checkpoints throughout the cities.
BY SEO JI-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]