Facebook Twitter

COVID-19 cases surged in South Korea. What went wrong?

If another ‘pandemic success story’ is struggling, should we be worried?

SHARE COVID-19 cases surged in South Korea. What went wrong?
People in line for coronavirus testing site in Seoul, South Korea.

People queue in line to wait for coronavirus testing at a testing site in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, July 7, 2021. The nation may soon go into lockdown because of a spike in cases.

Lee Jin-man, Associated Press

On Wednesday, South Korea recorded its highest single-day number of COVID-19 cases. But Thursday’s number of new cases broke that record for a new all-time high, said CNN. The recent surge has prompted Korean officials to issue stricter health and safety measures to limit further spread of the coronavirus, reported The Guardian.

  • Previously, South Korea had successfully prevented and contained outbreaks. Now, with new coronavirus variants, can South Korea avoid outbreaks?

Why did COVID-19 cases surge in South Korea?

The recent surge of cases in South Korea has been linked to the combination of three factors: looser restrictions, a slow vaccination rollout and the more transmissible delta variant, per The Associated Press.

  • Recently, Seoul — South Korea’s capital and largest city — has begun returning to pre-pandemic normal with nightclubs, bars and parks becoming crowded, reported the AP.
  • So far, 30% of South Koreans have received one vaccine dose and only 10% have received both vaccine doses, said The Guardian.
  • Over the last week, the rate of cases of the delta variant has nearly tripled, reported Reuters.

According to Jeong Eun-kyeong, a health official at the Korean Disease Control and Prevention Agency, “the cases are rising among people in their 20s and 30s who are more active, and tend to be asymptomatic or have only light symptoms,” per CNN.

  • “The number of virus patients is increasing very fast in metropolitan areas where there is a high concentration of bars and other entertainment venues young people often go to,” said Lee Ki-Il, deputy minister at South Korea’s Health Ministry, according to the AP.
  • The majority of those vaccinated are older adults over the age of 60, leaving vaccination rates lagging among younger adults, The Guardian reported.

How bad are outbreaks in South Korea?

On Wednesday, South Korean health officials recorded 1,215 new coronavirus cases, reported The Guardian. Thursday, the country recorded 1,316 new cases, setting a new record that exceeds the peak of South Korea’s third wave of outbreaks last winter.

  • The greater Seoul area — which includes Seoul, Incheon City and the Gyeonggi province — accounted for 80% of new cases on Wednesday, per Reuters.
  • About half of South Korea’s population of 52 million live in the greater Seoul area, according to the AP.

South Korea has recorded 165,344 total cases and 2,036 total COVID-19 fatalities, reported CNN.

Will South Korea go into lockdown?

South Korean Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum announced Friday that Seoul will return to the tightest level of restrictions beginning Monday, per CNN.

  • Under the highest level of restrictions, people are advised to stay home as much as possible. Schools are closed, public meetings are greatly restricted, restaurants and bars return to limited seating and all other rallies or events are banned, per Reuters.
  • “Because this is the highest distancing measure, we have no place left to go,” Kim urged the public, via CNN.

Health experts have warned that cases may double by the end of July before this wave of outbreaks subsides, said Reuters.

  • “We need to keep trying to find a balance between anti-virus measures and efforts to restore normalcy as the COVID-19 crisis prolongs,” said a South Korean Health Ministry official, Son Young-rae, per the AP.