South Korea on Tuesday ordered most schools in Seoul and surrounding areas to close and move classes back online, the latest in a series of precautionary measures aimed at heading off a resurgence in coronavirus cases.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 280 new coronavirus cases as of midnight Monday, bringing the country’s total to 17,945 with 310 deaths.
That represents a drop in daily new infections from 397 reported as of midnight Saturday, the highest daily tally since early March.
With most of the new cases centred in the densely populated capital area, however, health authorities say the country is on the brink of a nation-wide outbreak and have called on people to stay home and limit travel.
“It would be too hasty to say that the curve has flattened,” KCDC deputy director Kwon Jun-wook told a briefing. “There is still a high risk that cases could continue to rise.”
The past week has seen three times as many serious cases compared to past spikes, he said, raising concerns that the death toll could rise.
All students, except for high school seniors, in the cities of Seoul and Incheon and the province of Geonggi will take classes online until Sept. 11, the Ministry of Education said on Tuesday.
The beginning of the spring semester had been postponed several times since March, but as daily coronavirus cases dropped sharply since a February peak, most of South Korea’s schools reopened in stages between May 20 and June 1.
Reuters said that over the past two weeks, at least 150 students and 43 school staff have tested positive in the greater Seoul area, Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae told a briefing.
Seoul on Monday ordered masks to be worn in both indoor and outdoor public places for the first time, and has ordered places like churches, nightclubs, karaoke bars and other high-risk venues closed.
Health Minister Park Neung-hoo on Tuesday pleaded with thousands of doctors who have been staging walkouts to return to work.
“We sincerely ask the medical staff to promptly return to the medical ground, where the patients are awaiting,” he said at a meeting.
The doctors are protesting several government proposals, including a plan to increase the number of medical students by 4,000 over the next 10 years.
The government says the plan is necessary to be better prepared for public health crises like the coronavirus pandemic, but doctors’ associations have said it would unnecessarily flood the market and do little to fix more systemic problems.