National efforts urged to prevent further pandemic spread
South Korea raised the social distancing level by one notch to Level 2 from 1.5, Sunday, for Seoul and its surrounding area, taking effect from Tuesday for a two-week period. Southwestern Jeolla provinces and Gwangju will be subject to Level 1.5 up from 1. Health and Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo delivered the announcement during a press briefing late Sunday.
The government's decision came as the nation had 330 more COVID-19 cases including 302 domestic infections, with the total caseload reaching 30,733. The figure is lower than 386 cases Saturday due mainly to reduced virus testing conducted during the weekend. Since Nov. 8 the daily infections have increased to triple digits.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) has warned the "third wave of coronavirus outbreaks" is already in progress affecting the entire nation as the number of daily new COVID-19 cases surpassed 300 for the fifth consecutive day Sunday.
Health authorities attributed the outbreaks to private gatherings, public institutes and hospitals, warning the rapid rise in infections has been conspicuous especially in Seoul and its surrounding area, housing about half of the nation's population.
In fact, out of the 302 local infections, 219 broke out in the greater capital area. Yet, most major cities and provinces have reported new infections with 19 cases for South Gyeongsang Province, and 13 for South Jeolla Province. Worrisome is that "routine infections'' in daily life have been leading the new cases, in addition to the continued rise in daily infections. Suncheon in South Jeolla Province and Hadong County in South Gyeongsang Province have already raised the alert to Level 2.
Although there have been fewer cases of mass infections at vulnerable facilities like religious organizations, nursing facilities for seniors and call centers, small outbreaks affecting more than five people per instance have continued. Most-affected facilities include universities, small group gatherings, sports facilities and singing rooms.
The Noryangjin area in southern Seoul, crowded with many cram schools, has emerged as a potential "super spreader" because an increasing number of trainee teacher have tested positive for COVID-19. Seventy-six students were found to have been infected as of Sunday and many have yet to be tested.
We are worried about the state-run college entrance examination slated to be held Dec. 3. The number of schools that banned students from attending face-to-face classes amounted to 162 in nine major cities and provinces across the nation as of Friday. Minister Park said the upgrading of the social distancing level was put forward to minimize the possible impact upon the exam and those sitting it.
Authorities plan to increase the number of hospital beds for gravely ill patients to 216 by the end of the year. But some areas are expected to continue suffering a shortage of medical facilities and equipment to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. The authorities should fully prepare for the possible lack of hospital beds, treatment centers and self-quarantine facilities while taking steps to hold the college entrance exam.
We also urge the government to secure coronavirus vaccines to be supplied to the people at the proper time and for a reasonable price. It is time for the entire nation to do its best and join efforts to prevent the further rise of yet another wave of infections.