SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea has reported 686 new cases of the coronavirus, tying its second-highest daily jump since the emergence of the pandemic, as a resurgence driven by the greater capital area threatens to erase hard-won gains against the virus.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Wednesday that 536 of the new cases were reported in the Seoul metropolitan area, where new clusters of infections have been popping up from seemingly everywhere, including restaurants, markets, saunas, hospitals, long-term care facilities and army units.
The country’s caseload is now at 39,432, including 556 deaths. The agency said 149 among 8,699 active patients were in serious or critical condition, a group that is being closely monitored amid concerns about a possible shortage in intensive-care beds.
South Korea also reported 686 cases on March 2 during a major outbreak in its southeastern region, which health workers managed to contain by April with an aggressive test-and-quarantine campaign.
While South Korea had been seen as a success story against COVID-19 since, critics said the country let its guard down by easing social distancing restrictions to the lowest tier in October, even as experts warned of a surge during cold weather months when people spend longer hours indoors.
Officials have restored some of the restrictions in recent weeks, shutting down nightclubs and gyms and allowing restaurants to provide only deliveries and take-outs after 9 p.m., and could be forced to clamp down on economic activity further if the viral spread doesn’t slow.
In other developments in the region:
— Hong Kong is reimposing a ban on in-restaurant dining after 6 p.m. and closing gyms, beauty parlors and other businesses and public venues as it tries to get a grip on the latest surge of coronavirus infections in the territory. Restaurants may only provide takeout between 6 p.m. and 5 a.m. and while open, must limit numbers of patrons to 50% of capacity. Enforcement of the new measures will begin Thursday and remain in effect for two weeks. Hong Kong has already limited public gatherings to just two people and closed bars and other entertainment venues. Hong Kong on Wednesday reported an additional 100 cases, bringing its two-week total to 1,274. Most are cases of local transmission and the origins of 303 remain unknown, according to the government’s Center for Health Protection. Hong Kong has reported a total of 7,075 cases, including 112 deaths. In mainland China, authorities reported an additional four cases detected in the southwestern city of Chengdu, where authorities have locked down some neighborhoods and ordered widespread testing to curb a new outbreak that now totals nine confirmed cases.