by Hyunjoo Jin
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea has set 1,097 new records coronavirus cases on Sunday, including an outbreak in a Seoul prison that infected 188 as the country’s latest wave of COVID-19 worsens.
With over 1,000 daily infections for the fifth consecutive day, some medical and political experts have criticized the government for being too loose with social distancing rules.
South Korea’s aggressive tracking and testing at the start of the pandemic made the country a global success story as many nations saw a surge in infections, causing extensive blockades.
But the recent surge – stemming mainly from diffuse clusters rather than the large, isolated outbreaks of previous waves – has muddled efforts to contain it and the country is now short of hospital beds.
The daily total surpassed the record of 1,076 on Wednesday, according to data from Korea Disease Control e Prevention Agency (KDCA). The new cases brought the total coronavirus infections to 49,665, with 674 deaths from COVID-19 at midnight on Saturday.
The prison in southeast Seoul had 188 inmates and infected staff, according to KDCA, bringing the total number of facility-related infections to 215.
Former Conservative President Lee Myung-bak, who is in the prion after being convicted of corruption, tested negative for the virus, a Justice Ministry official said.
There are also minor outbreaks in nursing homes, hospitals, churches, a ski resort, and a golf course.
“It’s a dangerous situation,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said in a briefing, adding that efforts to expand testing to asymptomatic people should slow the spread of the virus.
The government has been reluctant to tighten restrictions on social distancing to the highest level, worrying businesses that they would stall and harm the economy.
Critics, however, say the government needs to grit its teeth and impose stricter restrictions.
“The government loosened the rules on social distancing too soon. When they needed strengthening, the government acted too slowly, ”said Lee Hyokmin, a professor in Yonsei University’s department of laboratory medicine.
South Korea’s drug watchdog is likely to approve emergency use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine early next year, with vaccinations likely to begin in February or March, the prime minister said. Chung Sye-kyun.
The government was also in talks with Johnson & Johnson’s Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc and Janssen on COVID-19 vaccines and was close to signing deals with two of them, he added. He did not delve into it.
(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by William Mallard and Stephen Coates)