SEOUL, Oct. 26 (Yonhap) — The number of COVID-19 cases in the capital area has increased since the government eased its social distancing rules two weeks ago, posing an ongoing challenge to health authorities ahead of possibly large crowds this Halloween weekend.
The government took coronavirus restrictions down to the lowest Level 1 on Oct. 12, citing falling new cases and “public fatigue” over various restrictions on dining in, gathering in large crowds and other measures meant to stop the spread of the virus.
But in the two weeks since, domestic infections have increased daily by numbers ranging from 41 to 138, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
Only two days met the criterion for Level 1 — fewer than 50 new daily cases — while two other days saw the figures surpass 100 to 104 and 138.
Health authorities have expressed concern the trend will continue and worsen going into the winter as the seasonal flu spreads.
A more immediate concern is the upcoming Halloween events planned for Saturday, with partygoers expected to crowd the bars and clubs of hip districts, such as Hongdae and Itaewon.
“We understand people’s wishes to get together with those they haven’t seen in a long time due to COVID-19 and release their frustrations, but please remember the cluster infections that sprang from Itaewon clubs in May,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said during a press briefing Sunday.
“A moment of complacency can lead to a difficult winter for everyone,” he added, warning that the cluster infections at the center of the recent high numbers could trigger a large-scale spread at any time due to increased social and economic activities.
The cluster infections have mostly arisen in nursing homes in the capital area, which has accounted for 77 percent of all new domestic cases in the past two weeks.
Health authorities said they will focus on controlling infections at these and other “at-risk” facilities, while also ensuring the enforcement of social distancing rules at nightlife establishments in Seoul, Incheon and Busan ahead of Halloween.
Rules include keeping entry logs, maintaining distances between tables and limiting capacity inside establishments.
In the event of a violation, authorities said they will immediately suspend the business.