South Korea on Tuesday announced a record 40 deaths from COVID-19, as daily coronavirus cases once again reached over 1,000 and the government decided to procure more vaccines.
The daily death toll – the highest since the country reported its first coronavirus case in late January – comes amid a stubborn third wave of infections that has forced authorities to tighten social distancing measures, amid of what the Yonhap News Agency described as an “imminent crisis in the medical system”.
The country added 1,046 more cases, including 1,030 local infections, bringing the total number of cases to 58,725, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
Daily cases have hovered around the 1,000 mark since mid-November and nearly 80% of Tuesday’s cases were reported in Seoul and the surrounding area. The total death toll from COVID-19 in South Korea stands at 859.
On Sunday, the KDCA extended current social distancing measures in Seoul and surrounding areas until January 3. A decision on whether to upgrade to the highest level of restrictions will be made in the coming days.
The government was reluctant to impose more stringent measures because of the effect on small businesses and instead took a more targeted approach.
Gatherings of more than four people have been banned in the Seoul metropolitan area since last Wednesday and in the rest of the country since last Thursday. Ski resorts and tourist attractions have also been closed to avoid crowds during the holiday season.
The continued growth of cases has heightened concerns over a shortage of hospital beds and treatment for the most seriously ill, prompting health officials to issue a rare prescription to private hospitals to get more intensive care beds for the most seriously ill. COVID-19 patients. The number of critically and critically ill COVID-19 patients was 330 on Tuesday, 35 more than the day before, according to the KDCA.
The third wave also increased pressure on the government on its vaccine procurement strategy, which some critics say has been too slow given that mass vaccination programs are already underway in the United States and Europe. .
On Tuesday, the presidential office announced that South Korea will receive sufficient doses of Moderna to immunize 20 million people from the second quarter of next year.
The deal was reached during a video conference between President Moon Jae-in and Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, which took place on Monday.
South Korea said earlier it plans to get enough doses to eventually vaccinate 46 million people, or more than 85% of its population.
Last week he announced deals with Janssen and Pfizer of Johnson & Johnson to buy more vaccines.
It is also participating in the World Health Organization’s COVAX program and is purchasing the AstraZeneca vaccine which is expected to receive regulatory approval in the UK in the coming days.
The first shots in South Korea, however, are not expected to take place until February, with medical workers and elderly residents the first to receive them.
Meanwhile, US Forces Korea (USFK), which includes approximately 28,500 members of the US military along with their families and thousands of other workers, administered the first vaccines to its “frontline and primary health workers. stakeholders, ”a USFK official told me.
The US armed forces are using Moderna vaccines, which were dispatched Monday to three military treatment centers across US bases in South Korea. South Korea is one of four overseas locations in the Defense Ministry’s initial phased distribution plan.