South Korea reports record daily COVID-19 cases; planning how to live with COVID-19

A MAN walks along a nearly empty street in Seoul, South Korea, July 12. — REUTERS

SEOUL — South Korea has set a record for daily coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases at 2,434, breaking the previous record set last month, as the country grapples with a wave of infections that began in early July, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said Friday.

The mortality rate and severe cases remain relatively low and steady at 0.82% and 309, respectively, helped largely by vaccinations that prioritised older people at high risk of severe COVID-19, KDCA said when reporting figures for Thursday.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum stressed the need for virus-prevention rules to be stricter as adherence could have been lax during this week’s three-day holiday.

“If prevention measures are not managed stably, the gradual recovery to normal life will inevitably be delayed,” Mr. Kim told Friday’s COVID-19 response meeting.

Authorities have advised people returning from holiday to be tested even for the mildest COVID-19-type symptoms, especially before going to work.

The daily caseloads may continue to surge and peak by next week as more people get tested after the break, Lee Ki-il, deputy minister of health care policy, told a briefing.

The government is drawing up a plan on how to live more normally with COVID-19, expecting 80% of adults to be fully vaccinated by late October. The strategy will be implemented in phases to gradually ease restrictions, while masks will still be required at least in the initial stage.

Although the strategy will not immediately lift all prevention measures, South Korea — which struggled to get vaccine supplies initially — was now in a more comfortable position for the transition, President Moon Jae-in told reporters aboard South Korea’s presidential jet on Friday.

“There is no problem at all with the amount of vaccines secured for this year,” Mr. Moon said. “The vaccine shipment got off to a slower start than other countries, which delayed the vaccination program, but I believe by next month, we will catch up and be a leading country by inoculation rate.”

South Korea this week said it would donate more than 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Vietnam next month in what would be the country’s first direct cross-border sharing of its vaccine stockpile.

South Korea will remain under tough social-distancing curbs through Oct. 3, which includes limited operating hours for cafes and restaurants and limiting the number of people allowed at social gatherings to two people after 6 p.m. in Seoul.

Thursday’s new cases brings total infections to 295,132, with 2,434 deaths.

South Korea has given 72.3% of its 52 million population at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine through Thursday, and has fully inoculated nearly 44%. — Sangmi Cha/Reuters