South Korea has added another new 1,092 infections of the coronavirus in a resurgence that is erasing hard-won epidemiological gains and eroding public confidence in the government’s ability to handle the outbreak.
The figures released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Wednesday brought the national caseload to 52,550, with more than 13,130 cases added in the last two weeks alone.
Seventeen COVID-19 patients died in the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 739 as concerns grow about a shortage in intensive care beds. At least 284 of the country’s 15,085 active patients were in serious or critical condition.
South Korea had been seen as a success story against COVID-19 after health workers managed to contain a major outbreak in its southeastern region in spring, when the majority of infections were linked to a single church congregation in Daegu city.
But critics say the country gambled on its own success by easing social distancing restrictions to help the economy. The spread of the virus is now mainly in the densely populated capital region, and health workers are struggling mightily to track infections occurring just about everywhere, including hospitals, long-term care facilities and army units.
The government has restored some social distancing restrictions in recent weeks and will clamp down on private social gatherings of five or more people between Christmas Eve and Jan. 3. Restaurants could be fined if they accept large groups, ski resorts and national parks will be closed, and hotels cannot sell more than 50% of their rooms during the period.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— Authorities will temporarily ease pandemic restrictions over most of Sydney to let more children attend Christmas gatherings as COVID-19 cases linked to a cluster in the city’s northern beaches reached 100. While Sydney residents will be limited to having 10 people in their homes, children under the age of 12 will not be counted in that number from Thursday through Saturday. A lockdown in the beach communities at the heart of the cluster was being eased in some sections. Seven new cases linked to the cluster were detected in the latest 24-hour period. The cluster was first detected last week, although how the U.S.-strain reached the area is unknown.