Medical workers administer COVID-19 tests to visitors at a screening facility in Gangwon Province on Sunday. (Yonhap)Reporting over 1,000 new COVID-19 cases for the 19th consecutive day Sunday, Korea is struggling to contain a stubborn fourth wave of infections even with the stiffest social distancing measures.
The number of newly confirmed cases amounted to 1,487 in the 24 hours ending Saturday at midnight, marking the highest number of daily infections reported on a weekend since the coronavirus outbreak early last year.
With a surge in the number of virus infections in the Greater Seoul area earlier this month, Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and Incheon have been put under the highest level of social distancing rules since July 12.
Despite the Level 4 measures banning gatherings of more than two after 6 p.m. and forcing restaurants and cafes to close after 10 p.m., the Greater Seoul area has struggled to curb the spread of the virus.
Last week, the government announced that the toughest distancing guidelines in the capital region will be extended for two more weeks through Aug. 8.
“The goal of the extension of social distancing is to reverse the increasing trend (in the number of infection cases in the Greater Seoul area) and bring down the figure to under Level 3 standards,” Lee Ki-il, a senior official from the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said in a briefing Friday.
“If these goals are not achieved within two weeks, we will consider stronger quarantine measures such as prohibiting gatherings at facilities and tightening limits on operating hours.”
In the meantime, the portion of infections reported in regions outside the capital has become a concern for health authorities.
As of Saturday, more than 30 percent of new infections were reported in noncapital regions for eight days in a row since July 18. In particular, Saturday’s 546 cases observed outside the Greater Seoul area took up almost 40 percent of the total caseload nationwide.
With many on the move for their summer vacations, some of the most popular travel destinations have implemented tougher social distancing measures to prevent the virus from spreading further. On July 19, the local government of Gangneung, a coastal city in Gangwon Province, was the first authority outside the capital region to apply Level 4 distancing guidelines.
Meanwhile, citizens aged 55 to 59 will start receiving their vaccines this week up until Aug. 14.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, approximately 85 percent of the 3.54 million people in the age group have made their vaccine reservations.
Among those receiving their jabs this week, people in the Greater Seoul area will get Pfizer’s vaccine whereas others in the noncapital area will get Moderna’s vaccine.
But in the case of some 250 medical institutions in the Greater Seoul area that are only equipped to inoculate Moderna’s vaccine, people who have made their reservations at these places will receive Moderna’s vaccine, not Pfizer’s.
For the people aged 55 to 59 who will receive their shots after this week, they will also get either Pfizer’s vaccine or Moderna’s. Koreans do not get to choose which vaccines they want to receive when they make reservations.
As the current supply schedule for vaccines is subject to change, health authorities plan to individually inform citizens of which vaccine they will get sometime in the week before their inoculation appointment.
For those aged 50 to 54, vaccination will begin on Aug. 16. For the age group younger than 50 years old, no vaccination schedule has been set yet.
“We will probably announce the vaccination plan for ages 18 to 49 next week when we release the vaccination plan for August,” said Kim Ki-nam, an official at the government’s COVID-19 vaccination response task force.
“The opening period for (online vaccine) reservation is around mid-August and we will include the specific dates in the August plan.”
As of Saturday, at least 32.9 percent of the country’s population, or about 16.9 million people, have received their first jabs. Among them, 6.8 million, or 13.4 percent of the population, have been fully inoculated.
By Kan Hyeong-woo (email@example.com)
By Kan Hyeong-woo (firstname.lastname@example.org)