World

S Korea warns virus curbs may be raised to highest level as cases rise

President mulls lockdown rules after record number of new cases

SEOUL: South Korea's President Moon Jae-in warned yesterday that Covid-19 curbs may be raised to the highest level after a second day of record increases in cases.

South Korea reported 1,030 new coronavirus infections yesterday after 950 the previous day, bringing total infections to 42,766 with 580 deaths.

Presiding over an emergency meeting at the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters for the first time since February, Mr Moon urged vigilance and called for all-out efforts to contain the virus.

"Unless the outbreak can be contained now, it has come to the critical point of considering escalating social distancing measures to the third level," he said, referring to the tightest curbs under the country's five-tier system.

Greater Seoul, home to about half of South Korea's 52 million people, is under level 2.5 restrictions. Gatherings of more than 50 people are banned and restaurants are prohibited from serving customers after 9pm.

"Our back is against the wall," Mr Moon said. "This is a crucial moment to devote all our virus control capabilities and administrative power to stopping the coronavirus spread."

Level three curbs would essentially mean a lockdown for the first time in Asia's fourth-largest economy. Schools would switch to remote learning, companies could allow only essential workers in offices and gatherings of more than 10 people would be banned.

The government will add about 10,000 hospital beds within the next few weeks and temporarily pay some nurses involved in the care of Covid-19 patients an extra 3 million won ($3,670) a month to help over-stressed hospitals across the country.

Meanwhile, in South-east Asia, Malaysia said the quarantine period for overseas travellers has been shortened to 10 days from 14, starting Dec 14.

Health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah said the decision to shorten the quarantine period was based on the latest scientific evidence and practices in other countries. Malaysia recorded 1,229 cases yesterday, taking the total to 83,475. There were four deaths, taking the toll to 415. - REUTERS, THE STAR

WORLD