Calling the surge in daily cases “a dire crisis,” health authorities urged South Koreans to cancel Christmas and New Year parties, while President Moon Jae-in tapped an experienced pandemic fighter as his next health minister.
Health authorities reported 629 new coronavirus infections, the highest in South Korea since a first wave peaked in February and early March, with 291 of the 600 community infections reported in Seoul.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the situation was critical and the government would decide on Sunday whether to upgrade restrictions to include the closure of karaoke bars and limits on religious gatherings to just 20 people.
Despite tougher restrictions imposed ten days ago, the rise in cases remained “uncontainable,” he told a government meeting.
Acting Seoul mayor Seo Jeong-hyup said shops, theatres, libraries and establishments that had not been under existing restrictions after 9 pm will be asked to shut down, as well as all city-run facilities regardless of hours.
“Seoul stops at 9 pm starting tomorrow,” Seo told a news conference.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said 463 or more than three quarters of the latest locally transmitted cases were from Seoul and nearby areas. South Korea has now reported a total of 36,332 infections, with 536 deaths.
That was the largest infection in the Seoul area since the start of the outbreak, health ministry official Yoon Tae-ho told a briefing.
Health authorities called on people to cancel all year-end gatherings and parties during a month-long “special virus prevention period” from December 7 to January 3.
“Please hold online celebrations especially for Christmas, religious events and New Year sunrise festivals if possible, and we urge you to not host any parties or events at hotels,” Yoon said.