Seoul has reported a record number of daily coronavirus cases, as a recent surge centered on the South Korean capital strains medical services a fortnight after the country eased social distancing rules as part of its “living with Covid” project.
Seoul recorded 1,436 new infections on Wednesday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. At 3,187, the nationwide caseload came close to the record of 3,270 set in late September.
While South Korea has experienced relatively few cases and deaths since the start of the pandemic, 21 deaths were reported on Wednesday, the 16th day in a row of double-digit fatalities that included a record 32 on Saturday, the agency said. The number of critically ill Covid-19 patients is at an all-time high of 522, it added.
With 76.1% of greater Seoul’s ICU beds for Covid patients occupied, the government is facing criticism that it eased restrictions too soon – including allowing larger social gatherings and longer indoor dining hours – in an attempt to revive the pandemic-hit economy.
“Medical workers have been stretched thin as serious cases have risen at a fast pace. It is safe to say that beds for critical cases are fully occupied,” Jeong Hye-min, a professor at Seoul National University Hospital, was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency.
Evidence that serious cases and deaths are rising among older people who were vaccinated early this year has prompted officials to speed up booster shots for people who received their second dose more than six months ago.
The gap between the second and third jabs will be reduced from six months to four months for people in their 60s or older, as well as for care home residents and those receiving long-term hospital care. People in their 50s will be eligible for booster shots after five months.
South Korea has reported 402,775 cases and 3,158 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
A dramatic fall in infections meanwhile is continuing in neighbouring Japan, a trend many experts attribute to its high rate of vaccination – with more than three-quarters of the 125 million population fully jabbed – and widespread mask wearing. Japan reported 154 cases on Tuesday, compared with more than 25,000 in mid-August. There were just 15 in Tokyo – half the capital’s daily total a week ago.