Women wearing face masks walk past a banner promoting a social distancing campaign displayed on the wall of Seoul City Hall in Seoul
FILE PHOTO: Women wearing face masks walk past a banner promoting a social distancing campaign displayed on the wall of Seoul City Hall in Seoul, South Korea, November 27, 2020. REUTERS/Heo Ran

December 5, 2020

By Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea reported 583 new coronavirus infections on Saturday, down from the previous day’s 629, which was the highest since a first wave peaked in February and early March.

Cases have been found largely in the capital Seoul and surrounding regions, where over half of the country’s 52 million people live. Of the new cases, Seoul alone reported 235 infections.

The spike prompted Seoul to announce unprecedented curfews starting on Saturday, shuttering most establishments and shops at 9 p.m. (1200 GMT) and cutting back public transportation operations by 30% in the evenings.

Tighter restrictions would be a blow to Asia’s fourth-largest economy, which reported a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 4.2% in October, the highest since July.

The number of people seriously or severely ill with COVID-19 rose by five to 121, using more of the nation’s swindling sickbeds, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported.

The health authorities said on Friday there were just 59 sickbeds immediately available for serious or severe cases and that the beds might run out in less than two weeks.

South Korea has reported 36,915 coronavirus infections and 540 deaths, the KDCA said.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Friday the situation was critical and the government would decide on Sunday whether to tighten restrictions to include closing karaoke bars and limiting religious gatherings to 20 people.

(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Daniel Wallis and William Mallard)

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