After experiencing early success and low case numbers during the beginning of the pandemic, South Korea just saw a surge of 1,241 new cases of COVID-19 on Christmas Day, making it the largest daily increase the country has seen yet. Another 1,132 cases were reported today, bringing South Korea's total caseload to 55,902.
According to CBS News, this spike in cases has left the country puzzled and confused, with more than 15,000 new cases reported within the last 15 days alone. In an attempt to curtail the spread, soldiers have been deployed into the capital of Seoul to help facilitate contact tracing measures. As hospitals begin to reach capacity at an alarming rate, South Korea is doing everything it can to expand health care services.
An official at the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, Kwak Jin, noted that at least four patients have already died at their homes or long-term care facilities while waiting for admission to a hospital just this month.
"Our hospital system isn't going to collapse, but the crush in COVID-19 patients has significantly hampered our response," Choi Won Suk, an infectious disease professor at the Korea University Ansan Hospital, echoed in her concerns.
Choi went on to say that the government should have continued to do more to try and avoid this spike from occurring since South Korea had been doing well at combating the virus at the beginning of the pandemic.
"We have patients with all kinds of serious illnesses at our ICUs and they can't share any space with COVID-19 patients, so it's hard," Choi said. "It's the same medical staff that has been fighting the virus for all these months. There's an accumulation of fatigue."
Many critics believe that the spike is likely due to President Moon Jae-in allowing high-risk venues like clubs and karaoke bars to reopen at normal capacities in October. Because of the spike, officials are also clamping down on private social gatherings through Jan. 3, shutting down ski resorts, prohibiting hotels from selling more than half of their rooms, and setting fines for restaurants if they accept groups of five or more people among other preventative measures.