By Kim Arin
The Korea Herald/ANN
Seoul will go into a partial lockdown for a week in an attempt to stop the novel coronavirus from spreading from the capital to the rest of the country, the city office said Sunday.
Acting Seoul Mayor Seo Jung-hyup said in a regular briefing that the city will be “put on hold” until Sept. 6 before the coronavirus situation unfolds into “an even worse economic disaster.”
As the numbers jump back to first-wave levels in recent weeks, with Seoul at the center this time, the government on Friday decided to impose physical distancing measures of unprecedented intensity.
Under the new guidance, only takeout orders are allowed at coffee chains. For restaurants, dining in is prohibited after 9 p.m. Private tutoring services cannot have classes larger than 10 people. Indoor sports facilities such as gyms, pool clubs and bowling alleys cannot operate at all.
Visitors to government-designated high-risk locations are required to submit their personal details with QR code-based IDs generated through a smartphone app.
These strict measures are set to last until Sept. 6. If transmissions do not subside by that point, they could be extended further.
Greater Seoul now represents 39 percent of all cases tied to community spread at 6,683 cases. This is fewer than 300 cases behind the 6,974 cases registered in Daegu -- the country’s former epicenter in the initial peak some six months ago.
Korea reported 299 more novel coronavirus cases -- 283 locally transmitted and 16 imported -- on Sunday, bringing the nationwide total to 19,699. A large majority of the newly confirmed local cases were found in the Seoul area, 203.
On top of the strict distancing guidance, a mask mandate has been enforced in most parts of the country starting Aug. 24, including Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Daejeon, Sejong and Jeju. Wearing face masks is compulsory both indoors and outdoors save for certain circumstances such as when eating or drinking.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Sunday that more patients may fall seriously sick in the coming week, as a high proportion of newly diagnosed patients are older.
The state health agency said the number of severe and critical cases of COVID-19 saw a 392 percent rise in the last 15 days. So far, 323 people have died with COVID-19, with 70 patients currently under critical care. All 18 people who died from the disease during that period were 60 or older.
Health authorities say the recent rise in the fatality rate is attributable to a higher proportion of elderly people within church communities, which have been linked to some of the larger coronavirus clusters in the country.
The number of cases related to the Sarang Jeil Church in Seongbuk, a northern Seoul district, recorded 1,018 as of Saturday. Since a first case was found there on Aug. 13, some 2,000 members of the church still remain unreachable and untested, health authorities said.
Health authorities said they will be adding more beds to combat an imminent shortage.
In the capital area, 75.2 percent of all coronavirus beds had been filled as of Sunday, data showed. The Seoul City government said at least 220 beds will be added at two hospitals in the city in the coming week in addition to a 1,000-bed-capacity outpatient treatment center for people with mild cases.
“With the ramped-up efforts to secure beds, the number of available beds is expected to at least double in the first half of September,” said Seo, the acting mayor.