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Virus could spiral out of control if Seoul metropolitan area becomes hotspot

Virus could spiral out of control if Seoul metropolitan area becomes hotspot

Posted April. 07, 2020 07:36,   

Updated April. 07, 2020 07:36


New coronavirus cases dropped to 47 on Monday, below 50 for the first time in 46 days. This is encouraging given that there were about 100 new cases everyday despite the introduction of strict social distancing measures. However, it is too early to decide if the COVID-19 crisis has peaked, not least because the number of tests was only 60 percent of what has been usually done on a weekday.

Experts are raising concerns as the coronavirus is showing no signs of slowing down in the Seoul metropolitan area where about 50 percent of the population live. Since the Shincheonji crisis, more than half of the new daily cases have been confirmed in the metropolitan area due to those who have come back from overseas or have been to large public spaces. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said that mass infection in the metropolitan area could lead to a situation where the pandemic spirals out of control as seen in many Western countries. Experts also warn that the virus can spread at the speed of cell division once the rapid spread of the respiratory virus occurs in large cities with a large transient population. Given that available medical resources are concentrated in Daegu and the North Gyeongsang Province, a dramatic surge in new cases in the metropolitan area could collapse the healthcare system.

The biggest risk is “imported” cases that come from all across the world. The self-isolation restrictions have been expanded from last Wednesday to include every arrival, increasing the number of people in self-isolation to 42,000, and the figures are rising by 5,000 everyday. As of Sunday, 137 people have violated the self-isolation restrictions. If the government let slip these handful violations, it could jeopardize everyone’s safety. United States Forces Korea (USFK) soldiers based in Pyeongtaek have been stripped of their monthly salary and demoted after they were found to have visited bars violating the rules. Self-isolation violations should be severely punished in order to prevent asymptomatic transmission.

It is also concerning that five to 10 percent of the confirmed cases are untraceable. The best way to control the risk posed by these cases is social distancing, which helps break the chain of transmission. Two weeks of strict social distancing have begun, but some businesses have been seen preparing to reopen. The government should closely monitor if high risk facilities observe the rules and encourage the public to practice social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus in the Seoul metropolitan area.