SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 615 new cases of the coronavirus, its 30th day in a row of triple-digit daily jumps, as fears grow the viral spread is getting out of control in the greater capital area.
The country has added more than 5,300 to its caseload just in the past 10 days. Most of the transmissions were detected in the Seoul metropolitan area where health workers are struggling to stem transmissions tied to various places, including restaurants, schools, hospitals and long-term care facilities.
There’s concern that hospital capacities could become overwhelmed within weeks if the country fails to slow the viral resurgence. While the country managed to contain a major outbreak in its southeastern region in spring by channeling nationwide health resources and personnel, it’s less clear where the reinforcements will come if the virus wreaks havoc in the densely-populated capital area, where half of the country’s 51 million people live.
“The capital area is now a COVID-19 war zone,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said in a virus meeting, pleading for citizen vigilance. He said the country may have to further increase social distancing to prevent the viral resurgence in the capital area from “exploding into a major outbreak nationwide and collapsing the health-care system.”
While President Moon Jae-in’s government had been eager to tout the country’s previous gains against the virus, there’s criticism that it gambled on its own success by moving quickly to ease social distancing restrictions to the lowest level in October although the virus was still spreading.
Officials have scrambled to restore some restrictions in the capital area in in past weeks as infections soared, shutting down nightclubs, karaoke rooms and gyms, reducing in-person school classes and allowing restaurants to provide only deliveries and take-outs after 9 p.m.