South Korea for the 17th consecutive day has recorded triple digit rise in new coronavirus cases on Sunday, extending a second wave of infections that is fanning concerns about a shortage of hospital beds in Seoul.
According to worldometers data, South Korea posted 299 new infections as of Saturday midnight. Most of the new infections are in the capital and surrounding areas.
Outbreaks have continued to erupt at churches, offices, nursing homes and medical facilities, even after officials tightened social-distancing rules.
The spike in cases has depleted hospital facilities, with the health ministry reporting that just 4.5% of beds in greater Seoul were available for critical cases as of Friday, down from 22% a week earlier.
“Only about 15 beds are immediately available in the greater Seoul area for patients in critical condition as there were numerous patients who were in a serious condition and needed to be hospitalised,” Yoon Tae-ho, director general for public health policy at the health ministry, said on Saturday.
“But we should have a little more room shortly because more people are being released,” he told a news briefing.
The KCDC said that more than 1,000 cases have been traced to the Sarang Jeil Church in Seoul, which is at the centre of the new wave of infections. Its head, Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon, is an outspoken government critic who was also confirmed to have contracted the virus.
The church outbreak led to at least 25 new clusters, and more than 300 people who joined an anti-government protest this month together with church members have tested positive so far, according to the KCDC.
The resurgence in cases has brought the country’s total reported COVID-19 cases to 19,699, including 323 deaths.
While dealing with the second wave of infections, an ongoing doctor strike of almost 16,000 intern and resident doctors has complicated the fight.
The medics walked out on Aug. 21, in a dispute over the government’s plans to boost the number of doctors to better deal with health crises like the coronavirus.
The Health Ministry earlier this week filed a police complaint against at least 10 doctors and extended a back-to-work order for the doctors, who are the backbone of healthcare services in emergency rooms and intensive care units.
The striking doctors have volunteered at temporary testing centres to help with the outbreak, but major hospitals have reported delays and disruptions since their walkout.
Amid the spike in infections South Korea had already shut dining at restaurants, pubs and bakeries in the Seoul area, while coffee shops, some of which have been identified as hotspots, are restricted to takeout and delivery.
Churches, nightclubs, gyms and most schools in the area are already closed, and masks are mandatory in public places.