Warmer spring weather is concerning authorities in South Korea as the country battles community infections amid the third COVID-19 wave to date.
As flowers blossom across the country, traffic has surged nationwide with an increasing number of people traveling for gatherings in the warmer weather. Although most regions have canceled their flower festivals for the season, the number of travelers is expected to stay high, especially on weekends.
The situation is alarming, as the number of daily new COVID-19 cases has stayed in the 400s for five days due to the continued discovery of community-level clusters in Greater Seoul, which includes Incheon and Gyeonggi Province.
Korea on Sunday added 456 new coronavirus cases – 437 locally transmitted and 19 imported from overseas – raising the cumulative total to 98,665, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. The latest addition is slightly up from 452 cases reported a day earlier.
Korea also added three more deaths from the virus, bringing that number to 1,696. The number of coronavirus patients in serious or critical condition marked 104, up two from 102 patients a day earlier. The country conducted 46,422 tests throughout Saturday, much down from 79,930 checks done Friday.
Officials have been focused on controlling the virus situation in Greater Seoul as a large portion of new cases have been found in the capital region. Out of 437 locally transmitted cases newly uncovered Sunday, 299 of them were reported in the area.
The capital region at the moment is under Level 2 social distancing rules while the rest of the country remains at Level 1.5. An additional ban on private gatherings of five or more people in place since December remains.
Many of the newly found cases were traced to small private gatherings and everyday sites, which has authorities on their tiptoes. Ten cases have so far been traced to a pediatrics clinic in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, and an entertainment establishment was found as a source for 16 cases thus far.
At least 204 cases have also been uncovered related to a public bath facility in Jinju, South Gyeongsang Province, to date, and a similar facility in Ulsan was home to 66 cases.
The Korean government has been concentrating on accelerating the nationwide COVID-19 vaccination program to overcome the pandemic, and officials on Saturday started the second round of the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer for medical workers.
Some 320 doctors, nurses and other medical workers received the second round of shots at the National Medical Center in Jung-gu, central Seoul. Follow-up shots for the AstraZeneca vaccine are slated to start later next month.
By Saturday’s end, 676,587 people have been given COVID-19 vaccine shots, with 939 of them added in the last 24 hours. AstraZeneca’s vaccine accounted for the majority with 619,100 shots, while Pfizer’s numbered 57,487.
The cumulative figure accounts for 1.3 percent of Korea’s population and 84.6 percent of those the government designated as the first vaccination targets.
Health authorities are planning to continue rolling out AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine following the announcement from the European Medicine Agency that no correlation was identified between the pharmaceutical company’s vaccine and blood clots in some of the recipients.
With a goal to achieve herd immunity by November, Korea is planning to vaccinate 12 million people by the end of June after starting the campaign on Feb. 26. Foreigners in Korea are also entitled to receive the vaccines.
As of Sunday morning, the country has reported a total of 9,782 cases with adverse symptoms from COVID-19 vaccines, 25 of them reported Saturday.
A total of 16 people have died after receiving coronavirus vaccines -- though no link has been established for them -- and 89 cases were reported as suspected anaphylaxis reaction or shock. Eleven cases have been categorized as having severe adverse symptoms.
By Ko Jun-tae (firstname.lastname@example.org