Coronavirus Japan/South Korea

Moon urges more testing, tracing as new curbs imposed

South Korea has reported 38,161 cases, with 549 deaths. PHOTO: REUTERS

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has urged the country's authorities to undertake more efforts in tracking and tracing coronavirus infections. This comes as tightened measures have failed to reduce daily infections. Yesterday, the country reported 615 new Covid-19 cases, raising the total to 38,161.

Health officials have warned the number of new daily cases could spike to over 900 next week if the pace of infection continues. New curbs from today include a ban on gatherings of 50 or more people and closure of some 130,000 infection-prone facilities.

In meetings with aides yesterday, Mr Moon called on the government to mobilise "every available personnel", from civil servants to those in the military and police, to provide on-site support for epidemiological investigations starting this week.

He also stressed the need to set up more drive-through test centres and expand the operating hours of testing facilities to allow office workers and young people to go for testing more conveniently, according to the presidential Blue House.

Mr Moon also instructed officials to push for the use of rapid antigen tests that can produce results in just 15 minutes, as compared with the six hours the polymerase chain reaction (PRC) tests require.

"We have overcome the coronavirus crisis several times, but the situation now is more serious than ever," he said, citing the worrying trend of increased asymptomatic transmission.

Mr Moon also warned that an "uncontrollable nationwide pandemic" could ensue if the country failed to curb the spread of the virus this time.

His message came as South Korea imposed another round of restrictions in Seoul and greater Seoul. From today, the social distancing level will be raised one notch to 2.5 - the fourth in a five-tier system - for three weeks. It means banning gatherings of 50 or more people, and closing karaoke rooms and indoor sports facilities, which were previously allowed to run until 9pm. Spectators are no longer allowed at sporting events, and religious activities must go online. Elementary schools can run only at one-third capacity, while middle and high schools continue to conduct lessons online.

Starting today, the subway in Seoul will cut capacity by 30 per cent after 9pm, in line with the city's plan to "stop Seoul" from 9pm to curb the worst bout of infections since March. In place since last Saturday, the curfew also applies to malls, cinemas, beauty salons and supermarkets.

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Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said Seoul and greater Seoul are already in a state of "war" against the virus, as their daily infection figure surged to a nine-month high of 470 on Sunday, before dropping to 440 yesterday. He also voiced concern over two consecutive days of 600-plus caseloads nationally. "Unless we curb the spread of the virus... we will see an explosive spread of infections and the country's medical system will falter," he said.

Mr Alexander Kim, 46, whose indoor golf simulator club will have to close for three weeks, said his earnings this month are just a fraction of his rent and management fees. "Winter is peak season for us but now we cannot even open for business," he told The Straits Times. "I just hope the third wave will be over soon. Meanwhile, I can spend more time with family."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2020, with the headline Moon urges more testing, tracing as new curbs imposed. Subscribe