South Korea daily COVID-19 cases highest since August; nationwide infections feared

(Reuters) – South Korea reported 313 new daily COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the highest number since August, as cluster infections continued to emerge from offices, medical facilities and small gatherings, prompting authorities to tighten social distancing rules.

The daily tally has been above 200 for five consecutive days and surpassed 300 for the first time since August when there was a large outbreak at a church political rally, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

The government decided on Tuesday to impose stricter social distancing measures for the greater Seoul area a month after easing them, warning of an even bigger crisis if its current efforts fail to blunt a spike in new cases.

“We’re in a crisis where there are pessimistic views that predict another nationwide transmission,” Vice Health Minister Kang Do-tae told a meeting.

“Infections are now occurring simultaneously in every corner of our society, real life situations, unlike the past when there were large outbreaks from a specific place or group.”

Of the new cases, 245 were locally transmitted and 68 imported. Nearly 74% of domestic infections came from the greater Seoul area, home to around half of the country’s 52 million population, including cases linked to a hiking club, a gym, a manufacturing plant and family gatherings.

Total infections are now at 29,311, with 496 deaths.

Starting Thursday public gatherings of 100 people or more will be banned, religious services and sporting events will be limited to 30% capacity, and high-risk facilities including clubs and karaoke bars must widen distance among guests.

Health authorities have warned the daily tally could go as high as 400, and they might tighten social distancing further to limit night-time dining out and curtail public transportation if the situation does not stabilise over the next two weeks.

“It’s difficult to overcome this new crisis…,” Kang said, urging citizens to implement strict hygiene rules and minimise travel and year-end celebrations.