SEOUL • The health authorities in South Korea said for the first time yesterday that the country is in the midst of a second wave of coronavirus infections focused around its densely populated capital, stemming from a holiday in May.
The Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) had previously said South Korea's first wave had never really ended.
But yesterday, KCDC director Jeong Eun-kyeong said it had become clear that a holiday weekend in early May marked the beginning of a new wave of infections focused in the greater Seoul area, which had previously seen few cases.
"In the metropolitan area, we believe that the first wave was from March to April as well as February to March," Dr Jeong said at a briefing. "Then we see that the second wave which was triggered by the May holiday has been going on."
At the end of February, South Korea reported a peak of more than 900 cases in a day, in the first large outbreak of the coronavirus outside of China.
An intensive tracking and testing campaign reduced the numbers to single digits by late April.
But just as the country announced it would be easing social distancing guidelines in early May, new cases spiked, driven in part by infections among young people who visited night clubs and bars in Seoul over the holiday weekend.
"We originally predicted that the second wave would emerge in autumn or winter," Dr Jeong said.
"Our forecast turned out to be wrong. As long as people have close contact with others, we believe that infections will continue."
As of midnight on Sunday, South Korea had reported 17 new cases, the first time in nearly a month that daily new cases fell below 20. It was a drop from the 48 and 67 cases reported in the previous two days.
South Korea has reported a total of 12,438 cases, with 280 deaths.
While Dr Jeong called for vigilance, she also said that people could remove their masks during hot weather if they stayed 2m from one another.