South Korea to reimpose Covid-19 restrictions as chaos reigns in hospitals

Dec 16, 2021: South Korea says it will re-impose curfews on businesses and tighten social distance laws as the number of COVID-19 infections and serious cases has reached record highs.

The measures, announced on Thursday, come a month and a half after the South Korean government eased sanctions under its “live with COVID-19” policy. But with the rise in daily infections and health care workers warning of “mayhem” in hospitals, pressure is mounting on the government to reverse the policy.

As per the new rules, which will take effect on Saturday, gatherings are limited to not more than four people, unless they are fully vaccinated. Restaurant cafes and bars will also need to close at 9pm and movie theaters and internet cafes until 10pm. Non-vaccinated people can only eat alone, or use take-out or delivery services.

“We’re making all-out efforts to overcome the pressing crisis by expanding our medical capacity and vaccination campaign, but we need time,” Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said at a government meeting.

“We can go beyond this crisis only by beating down the current spread as soon as possible through strong social distancing.”

He also urged those eligible for booster jobs to get them as soon as possible, warning of increasing pressure on the country’s healthcare system. More than 80 percent of South Korea’s population has been fully vaccinated. On Monday, healthcare workers, along with doctors and nurses, called for new restrictions, describing “battlefield” scenes in Seoul’s hospitals.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 7,622 cases for Thursday, a day after posting a new record daily count of 7,850. It said the number of serious cases has hit another high at 989, with some 87 percent of intensive care unit beds taken up in the Seoul metropolitan area and about 81 percent in use nationwide.

Daily numbers of cases shot past 7,000 for the first time last week, just days after surpassing the 5,000 mark.

KDCA director Jeong Eun-kyeong said the daily tally could top 10,000 this month if the upturn is not blunted.

Total infections rose to 544,117, including 148 cases of the potentially more transmissible Omicron variant, with 4,518 deaths, the KDCA said.

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