South Korea reports record virus surge

SEOUL (AFP) – South Korea reported its highest daily number of coronavirus cases yesterday, as the country’s Christmas celebrations were marred by a harsh third wave of COVID-19.

The nation has been held up as a model of how to combat the virus, with the public largely following official guidelines, but yesterday saw a record 1,241 new infections.

“We strongly recommend and request that you cancel all of your meetings and gatherings, even with your close family members,” said Yoon Tae-ho of Central Disaster Management Headquarters.

Seventy per cent of the fresh cases came from the greater Seoul area, home to half the country’s 52 million people.

In an attempt to contain the rising infection numbers, from Wednesday, private social gatherings of more than four people in the greater Seoul area were banned until January 3 by officials.

Religious institutions have switched to online masses or small-scale services, and ski resorts and national parks have been shut down nationwide.

South Korea has been expanding its mass testing programme and more than 118,000 tests were conducted on Thursday alone, authorities said.

New cases have also emerged from various venues and communities in recent weeks, including long-term care facilities, a prison, army units, religious institutions and schools, while hospitals in the capital area have been struggling with intensive care unit (ICU) bed shortages.

A person sits near a park closed to prevent spread of COVID-19 in Seoul. PHOTO: AFP