Seoul: South Korea may not further ease its coronavirus restrictions, the country’s top public health official warned on Thursday, amid a spike in new cases.
South Korea began easing virus curbs in November in the first of the three-phase “living with Covid-19” scheme. It had planned to move to the second phase in mid-December after a two-week evaluation period, reports Xinhua news agency.
Jeong Eun-kyeong, commissioner of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said it may be difficult to move to the second phase of the scheme if new cases continue to grow.
The country reported 2,520 new Covid-19 cases, raising the total caseload to 388,351, the KDCA said.
Thursday’s tally marked a slight hike from the previous day’s 2,425, which marked the first time in six days that daily infections exceeded 2,400.
The daily infection tally has stayed in the quadruple digits since July 7, including the record high of 3,272 cases on September 25.
“If the current trend continues, we will need to maintain the first phase or tighten virus restrictions,” Jeong said during a parliamentary session.
Under the first of the three-phase scheme, people are allowed to gather in groups of up to 10, regardless of vaccinations. Still, basic preventive measures like wearing masks indoors remain in effect.
Operation hour curfews for businesses that cover restaurants, cafes and movie theatres are fully lifted, except for entertainment facilities.
High-risk facilities, such as bars and nightclubs, have introduced a “vaccine pass” system that requires visitors to be fully vaccinated or have a negative test result.
The death toll rose by 21 to 3,033 on Thursday, health authorities said. The fatality rate came to 0.78 per cent.
The number of patients in serious or critical condition came to 473, up 13 from the previous day.
The health authorities warned there could be more cluster infections under the eased social distancing scheme meant to bring the country gradually back to pre-pandemic normalcy.
As of Thursday, 41.76 million people, or 81.3 per cent of the country’s 52 million population, had received their first Covid-19 vaccine shots. The number of fully vaccinated people came to 39.73 million, or 77.4 per cent.
The health authorities predict full vaccination rates to reach 80 per cent around mid-December.
In Seoul, the bed utilization rate for coronavirus patients in serious or critical condition stood at 74.8 per cent Thursday.
South Korea also reported its first death after a patient received a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine.
Health authorities said they will need to investigate the case to determine the cause of death.