On Friday, August 28, the South Korean government extended phase 2 restrictions - the country's second highest on a three-tiered system - for a further week through Sunday, September 6, while also imposing additional restrictions in Greater Seoul. From Sunday, August 30, through Wednesday, September 9, eating and drinking will be banned inside coffee shops, and restaurants, pubs, and bakeries will only be allowed to offer dine-in services between 05:00 and 21:00 (local time) in Seoul, Incheon, and Gyeonggi province, which make up Greater Seoul. The extension and tightening of restrictions come after 323 new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases were confirmed in the previous 24 hours on Saturday, August 29, with 371 on Friday, and 441 on Thursday, August 27. Over 100 new cases have been reported daily for more than two weeks.
The restrictions also come amid a series of strikes by medical workers over proposed reforms to the medical system, which is causing concern over the healthcare systems' ability to cope with the spike in COVID-19 cases. Almost 16,000 interns and residents have been on strike since August 21, with thousands of teaching hospital doctors, trainee doctors and private practice physicians launching a three-day strike on Wednesday, August 26. The Health Ministry has attempted to counter the strikes by issuing back-to-work orders, however, the Korea Medical Association plan to organize a nationwide strike from September 7 unless the proposed reforms are dropped.
Authorities made face masks mandatory in Seoul on Monday, August 24. Residents of Seoul must wear face masks in all indoor and crowded outdoor public spaces, except when drinking or eating. Authorities also announced the nationwide implementation of second-tier social distancing rules, which prohibits in-person church meetings and closes some entertainment venues such as nightclubs, karaoke bars, and cybercafes. Indoor gatherings are limited to a maximum of 50 people and outdoor gatherings to a maximum of 100 people.
As of August 29, there have been 19,400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Korea with 321 associated fatalities. Further international spread of the virus is to be expected in the near term.
The first case of COVID-19 was reported on December 31 and the source of the outbreak has been linked to a wet market in Wuhan (Hubei province, China). Since then, human-to-human transmission of the virus has been confirmed.
Cases of the virus have been confirmed in numerous countries and territories worldwide. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the global outbreak a pandemic. Virus-screening and quarantining measures are being implemented at airports worldwide, as well as extensive travel restrictions.
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, dry cough, and tiredness. Some patients may experience other symptoms such as body pains, nasal congestion, headache, conjunctivitis, sore throat, diarrhea, loss of taste or smell or a rash on skin or discoloration of fingers or toes. These symptoms (in most cases mild) appear gradually. Generally, most patients (around 80 percent) recover from the disease without being hospitalized.
Measures adopted by local authorities evolve quickly and are usually effective immediately. Depending on the evolution of the outbreak in other countries, authorities are likely to modify, at very short notice, the list of countries whose travelers are subject to border control measures or entry restrictions upon their arrival to the territory in question. It is advised to postpone non-essential travel due to the risk that travelers may be refused entry or be subject to quarantine upon their arrival or during their stay.
To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, travelers are advised to abide by the following measures:
- Frequently clean hands by applying an alcohol-based hand rub or washing with soap and water.
- When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue; if used, throw the tissue away immediately and wash hands.
- If experiencing a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing, seek medical care urgently and share your previous travel history with your health care provider.
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