|People wait to receive a coronavirus test at a makeshift testing center in Incheon, Wednesday. Yonhap|
Korea reports daily record of 1,784 COVID-19 cases
By Lee Hyo-jin
The fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is showing no signs of abating here despite toughened social distancing measures, with daily caseloads breaking new highs.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 1,784 new infections Tuesday, beating the record of 1,615 set July 13. The daily number of cases has stayed above 1,000 for two consecutive weeks, and it is highly likely that the government will extend the Level 4 social distancing measures in the Seoul metropolitan area before their July 25 expiration.
Meanwhile medical experts believe that stronger measures are a necessary inevitability.
Tuesday's total didn't even reflect the 270 confirmed cases among service members of the coronavirus-hit Cheonghae naval anti-piracy unit, who were returned home that evening.
The unrelenting increases in infections have put the health authorities on high alert, as they had been expecting the stringent measures to bring the situation under control in a week to 10 days.
Since July 12, Seoul, the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and the port city of Incheon have been under Level 4 restrictions, which include a ban on two or more people gathering together after 6 p.m.
"Ten days have passed since the implementation of Level 4 in the Seoul metropolitan area. We initially expected to see visible effects of the measures in a week, but we are not seeing any results," Lee Ki-il, a senior official at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said at a briefing Wednesday.
"We expect the number to go down on Friday or Saturday," he said, adding that around the upcoming weekend, the government will announce new distancing measures for the capital area that will be adopted from July 26. It is widely expected the current measures will be extended.
|A person receives a coronavirus test at a center in Incheon, Wednesday. Yonhap|
The health ministry said that the record-high daily tally was attributable to people increasing their travel across the country in the summer vacation period, as well as the presence of the highly transmissible Delta variant.
Around 34 percent of total infections were found to be of the Delta variant in the second week of July, up from 23 percent the previous week, according to the KDCA. The figure was a mere 2.5 percent in the third week of June.
At this pace, it may become the dominant strain in the coming weeks, the KDCA said.
Given this situation, the extension of the Level 4 distancing measures seems inevitable, according to medical experts, who insisted that stronger measures should be added on top of the current ones.
"The fourth wave of the pandemic hasn't reached a peak. Daily caseloads will go up further," said Chon Eun-mi, a respiratory disease specialist at Ewha Womans University Medical Center.
"The government's highest level of social distancing measures, which is far from a lockdown, aren't effective in curbing the current virus spread as it merely limits evening gatherings among young people."
In addition to stronger and more tailored measures, Chon said the government should adopt the same level of distancing nationwide, in order to prevent "balloon effect" infections spreading to other regions with less harsher regulations.