Alarmed by mass infections in southern cities, Seoul is stepping up measures to protect its 9.7 million citizens, readjusting work hours for municipal workers, beefing up inspection personnel and closing public facilities.
“So far, the central government and the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have taken charge of the virus fight, but now, with new infections coming in hundreds a day, the situation calls for proactive actions from local governments,” Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said at a press briefing.
“We are in this fight, thinking if Seoul is penetrated, (the whole of) Korea is penetrated,” he added.
The day before, the South Korean government raised the virus alert to the highest level amid a spike in number of infections, with more than half of the cases traced to a Daegu branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.
He urged the sect to provide a full list of names of its members in Seoul. If it does not cooperate, the central government should intervene forcefully, he said, calling for drastic measures -- such as search-and-seizure operations -- on the sect at the center of the virus outbreak.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government already closed some 163 of 170 facilities in Seoul affiliated with Shincheonji and disinfected them.
Out of 833 confirmed cases across the country as of Monday afternoon, 30 cases were in Seoul.
As part of the measures to counter the virus, the municipality expanded inspection personnel for the COVID-19 virus from 24 to 96 starting Monday.
Disinfection efforts will be concentrated on the Catholic University of Korea Eunpyeong St. Mary’s Hospital linked to four people infected with the virus.
Seonam Hospital and Seoul Medical Center were designated as hospitals specializing in infectious diseases and 413 hospital beds were cleared for incoming patients infected with the virus. The city will secure more than 900 hospital beds.
Some 25 community health centers in every district in Seoul will operate 24/7 and focus resources on checking and inspection potential patients.
Children-only prescreening clinics will be run at Seoul Medical Center and SMG-SNU Boramae Medical Center.
Public facilities in the capital -- 495 facilities for elementary school students and 73 culture sports facilities, including public libraries, museums, galleries and sport stadiums -- will be shut. Some 5,705 day care centers will be closed for two weeks until March 9.
Some 70 percent of workers at the Seoul Metropolitan Government, 25 district offices, 25 city-sponsored organizations will go to work one hour late -- working from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. -- to make public transport less crowded during rush hour.
A briefing will be aired live at 11 a.m. every day to inform citizens of the municipality’s response to the virus outbreak.
Park also asked for the cancellation or delay of massive rallies, vowing stern action such as physically stopping such rallies if they are held in central Seoul. The municipality banned rallies at Seoul Plaza, Cheonggye Plaza and Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul on Friday.
By Ock Hyun-ju (email@example.com