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Confirmed cases drop to 400s due to fewer tests; around 1m vaccinated

Authorities to toughen basic quarantine rules amid growing social distancing fatigue

A person gets tested at a screening clinic at Seoul Station in Jung-gu, Seoul, Monday. (Yonhap)
A person gets tested at a screening clinic at Seoul Station in Jung-gu, Seoul, Monday. (Yonhap)
With the number of new COVID-19 cases hovering in the 400s and 500s for weeks, the authorities have toughened basic quarantine rules, warning there will be zero tolerance for violations.

As of midnight, the number of new COVID-19 cases increased by 473 to 105,752, the government’s central response team said Monday. Although the number dropped by 70 from the previous day’s 543, it is hard to say that the spread has slowed down because fewer COVID-19 tests are carried out on weekends.

Interior Minister Jeon Hae-cheol said in a meeting Monday that outbreak patterns were changing. Small-scale outbreaks are starting simultaneously in everyday spaces such as entertainment facilities, restaurants and indoor sports facilities, he said.

“In particular, the proportion of newly confirmed cases outside the (Seoul) metropolitan area is approaching 40 percent, which is becoming a nationwide trend,” he said.

Until last week the Seoul metropolitan area accounted for more than 70 to 80 percent of newly confirmed cases, but that figure has gradually declined in recent days.

Jeon said, “Starting today, the government will implement strengthened basic quarantine rules for multiuse facilities. The police and local governments will conduct intensive on-site inspections for entertainment facilities for two weeks.”

The government plans to apply its zero tolerance principle by, for instance, prohibiting gatherings and imposing fines, he said.

For bars, karaoke establishments, door-to-door sales businesses, indoor sports facilities and churches, a one-week grace period has ended and a crackdown began Monday. Owners of restaurants and cafes will be fined if customers violate basic quarantine rules, such as not filling out their information in an entry log.

A day earlier, Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol asked the public to comply with basic quarantine rules, cancel meetings and actively participate in the vaccination program, warning of another wave of the pandemic.

“With an average of 500 patients per day, if this trend spreads again, it can grow to more than 1,000 people per day in a short period of time,” he said.

However, it is doubtful whether such warnings will be effective because long-term social distancing regulations and the delay in vaccinations have caused a growing sense of fatigue in the general public.

Currently, the government has secured vaccines for only 7.7 million people and it is uncertain when much of that supply will come in amid global shortages.

“The vaccination is going smoothly and the number of vaccinations, including those aged 75 or older, is expected to exceed 1 million today,” Jeon said, adding that the government would focus more on the administrative process to speed up vaccinations.

As of now, more than 850,000 people have received AstraZeneca vaccines and around 100,000 have received Pfizer vaccines.

There have been 10,997 reports of abnormal responses, with 10,839 cases involving mild symptoms such as headache and fever, 109 cases involving anaphylaxis and 17 cases involving convulsions. Thirty-two deaths have been reported, and investigations are underway to determine whether the vaccinations played a role.

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)

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