SEOUL: South Korean health experts called on Thursday (Jul 29) for tougher social distancing rules including a midnight curfew as the number of severe COVID-19 cases has doubled in three weeks, driven largely by young, unvaccinated people.
South Korea is battling its worst wave of infections linked to the more contagious Delta variant helped by what some experts see as public complacency and a slow vaccination drive.
On Thursday, authorities reported 1,674 new cases, down slightly from nearly 2,000 the day before.
“Young people are no longer afraid of gathering,” Jung Ki-suck, professor of pulmonary medicine at Hallym University Sacred Heart Hospital, told Reuters.
He said groups skirted distancing rules despite a ban in the capital on gatherings of more than two people after 6pm and many bars were operating through the night illegally.
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Authorities should impose a four-hour curfew in the capital from midnight, he said.
South Korea largely kept the virus at bay for the first year of the pandemic and its total tallies of 195,099 cases and 2,085 deaths are much lower than those of many other countries.
But its vaccination campaign has been slow with only about 36 per cent of its 52 million people having had one vaccine dose and just 14 per cent fully vaccinated.
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While vaccinations of the elderly have kept mortality rates low, at 1.07 per cent as of Wednesday, the number of severe cases jumped to 285 from 144 three weeks ago when the latest surge of infections gathered pace.
Nearly a quarter of serious cases are now in the 20-49 age group – 66 people compared with just 11 in that age cohort two months ago.
Experts warn the trend will get worse with vaccinations for people in their 20s only likely to begin in September.
Eom Joong-sik, professor of infectious diseases at Gachon University Gil Medical Center, said working-from-home must be extended to cut infections in workplaces.
“Work-from-home should be adopted for all companies except essential businesses that require people on site,” he told Reuters.
The greater Seoul area is under the toughest Level 4 curbs with most of the rest of the country under Level 3 restrictions, which include a 10pm dining curfew and ban on gatherings of more than four people.
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