SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea has reported 17 new cases of COVID-19, the first time its daily jump came down to the teens in nearly a month, as health authorities scramble to contain a resurgence of the virus centered around the capital.
The figures released by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday brought the national caseload to 12,438 cases, including 280 deaths.
The country over the past two weeks have been reporting 40 to 50 new cases per day amid increased public activity and eased attitudes on social distancing. There has also been an uptick in imported cases, mostly from passengers arriving from southwest Asia, prompting authorities to halt providing new visas for travelers from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Twelve of the new cases reported Monday were from the Seoul metropolitan area where authorities have struggled to keep track of hundreds of transmissions linked to nightspots, restaurants, church gatherings and workers such as door-to-door salespeople and warehouse employees. Six of the new cases, including five in the capital area, were linked to international arrivals.
The monthlong rise of infections in the densely populated capital area have raised concerns that the country is sleepwalking into another crisis after containing its first wave centered around the southeastern city of Daegu. As that outbreak abated, authorities eased social distancing guidelines and reopened schools in phases.
Seoul National University doctor Bang Ji-hwan, a member of South Korea’s central clinical committee on new infectious diseases, said during a news conference Sunday afternoon that the country must brace for a possibility of a “massive explosion” of infections in the capital area that might overwhelm the region’s hospital capacities.
He suggested that the country should ease its criteria for deciding when COVID-19 patients can be safely discharged from hospitals to help avoid a possible shortage in beds and manage workloads of medical staff.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— China on Monday reported 18 new confirmed cases of coronavirus, with nine in the capital of Beijing and two in the neighboring province of Hebei. The numbers come as China as strengthened measures to eradicate the virus, including cancelling school classes and public events. Seven of the new cases were brought from outside China by Chinese citizens travelling from abroad, The National Health Council reported 89 people in treatment with COVID-19 and 129 people in isolation as suspected cases or for testing positive for the virus without showing symptoms. China has reported a total of 4,634 deaths from 83,396 cases of the virus.