South Korea reported a record 950 daily coronavirus cases on Saturday, with the president calling the country’s third wave of COVID-19 an “emergency”.
More than 70% the domestically transmitted cases were from Seoul and its neighbouring areas, where about half of the nation’s 52 million people live.
The South Korean authorities warned they may tighten social-distancing restrictions to their strictest level but held off for now.
“This is indeed an emergency situation,” said President Moon Jae-in, ordering the mobilisation of police, military personnel and public medical doctors in an effort to curb the further spread of the coronavirus, chiefly driven by small, widespread clusters.
“We plan to extensively expand drive-through and walk-through coronavirus testing methods … as preemptive measures to track down infected people and block the spread,” Moon said in a Facebook post.
South Korea is likely to see a further rise in the caseload with significant increases in testing, he added.
The surge has been a blow to South Korea’s pandemic-fighting system, which used invasive tracing, testing and quarantine to blunt previous waves without lockdowns, keeping daily infections below 50 for much of the summer.
The third wave comes despite tougher social-distancing rules that took effect on Tuesday, including unprecedented curfews on restaurants and most other businesses.
Greater Seoul is under level 2.5 restrictions. Raising that to 3, the highest of the five levels, would require schools to switch to remote learning, allow only essential workers in offices and ban gatherings of more than 10 people.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the government will make all-out efforts to halt the third wave.