South Korea struggles with new spikes, but WHO disputes claim of ‘second wave’
As the world crossed 10 million cases of COVID-19, South Korea has seen spikes over the past few weeks. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 62 new cases, 22 of which it claims were from overseas.
Most of the domestic cases were detected in Seoul, the densely populated capital city. The new cases throughout the month have been tied to religious gatherings, nightclubs and warehouse workers.
Early in May, Korea confirmed an initial outbreak of 35 new cases following the decision to lift social distancing restrictions.
New cases continued to appear in clusters, with the largest spikes occurring in Bucheon, just west of Seoul, last week when a warehouse run by e-commerce leader Coupang recorded 138 new cases, and Itaewon, a Seoul nightlife area, recording around 277 new cases.
The continued development of new clusters led KCDC director Jeong Eun-kyeong last week to declare the nation was suffering a “second wave” of infections. The country has recorded 12,715 total cases, with around 280 deaths.
“In the metropolitan area, we believe that the first wave was from March to April as well as February to March,” Jeong said. “Then we see that the second wave, which was triggered by the May holiday, has been going on.”
“We originally predicted that the second wave would emerge in fall or winter. Our forecast turned out to be wrong. As long as people have close contact with others, we believe that infections will continue.”
Despite Korea’s pronouncement, the World Health Organization disputed the claim. Epidemiologist and technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove instead speculated that the success that nations have managed in suppressing transmission has made any increase in cases appear more significant.
“Any opportunity that the virus has to take hold, it will,” she said, urging countries to “put everything they can” into isolating such cases to prevent renewed community transmission.
Areas such as Italy – once deemed the hot spot of the pandemic in Europe – have indeed continued to see a downtrend in numbers. For the first time since the early days of the outbreak, fewer than 100 infected patients were occupying ICU beds nationwide.
As a show that the pandemic is receding and the people are feeling confident, inter-regional travel resumed on June 3, and Italy is preparing to reopen its borders.
Britain’s government, meanwhile, is expected to scrap a 14-day quarantine requirement that forced people to self-isolate upon returning home from abroad.
Not all countries have managed to keep the numbers low: South America has seen several countries spiral out of control, with Brazil now the second-hardest hit country in the world after the United States.
On June 22, Brazil became the second country to pass 50,000 deaths. President Jair Bolsonaro has consistently opposed measures to fight the spread of the pandemic, including lockdowns, in order to focus on maintaining the economy.
The move has proved incredibly divisive, with two health ministers leaving their posts as deaths and infections surged.