SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s top infectious disease expert says the country may need to reimpose social distancing restrictions it eased in April, with coronavirus transmissions creeping up in the populated Seoul metropolitan area and elsewhere in recent weeks.
Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a virus briefing on Wednesday it’s becoming increasingly difficult for health workers to track the spread of COVID-19, which has coincided with increased public activity amid warmer weather and eased attitudes on social distancing.
South Korea reported 40 new cases on Wednesday, its biggest daily jump in nearly 50 days, as officials scrambled to trace hundreds of infections linked to nightspots, restaurants and a massive e-commerce warehouse near Seoul.
“We will do our best to trace contacts and implement preventive measures, but there’s a limit to such efforts," Jeong said. "There’s a need to maximize social distancing in areas where the virus is circulating, to force people to avoid public facilities and other crowded spaces.”
South Korea was reporting around 500 new cases per day in early March before managing to stabilize its outbreak with aggressive tracking and testing, which allowed officials to relax social distancing guidelines and proceed with a phased reopening of schools.
But Seoul and nearby cities restored some controls in recent weeks by shutting thousands of bars, karaoke rooms and other entertainment venues to slow the spread of the virus. Education authorities in Seoul said Wednesday they delayed class openings in 111 schools due to virus concerns, but they couldn’t immediately confirm how many students were affected.