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Seoul (population 26 million) only has three critical care beds left for COVID patients

Stuart Henderson
·2-min read
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - 2020/11/13: A woman wearing a mask walks past an iPhone 12 advertisement in Seoul. (Photo by Simon Shin/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - 2020/11/13: A woman wearing a mask walks past an iPhone 12 advertisement in Seoul. (Photo by Simon Shin/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

South Korea has reported a record number of coronavirus deaths in the country's biggest wave of infections since the start of the pandemic.

Hospitals are said to be at breaking point with only three critical care beds available in greater Seoul, an area with a population of almost 26 million people.

On Thursday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported the pandemic had claimed another 22 lives, up sharply from a previous high of 13 deaths in a single day earlier in the week.

The country was praised for its early success in containing the coronavirus without a lockdown by relying heavily on contact-tracing and testing after the first case was confirmed in January.

By the end of April, it managed to bring the virus under control and declared there were no new locally transmitted cases.

However, in recent weeks the number of cases has started to spike significantly.

Watch: South Korea ramps up mass testing as Covid cases hits new daily record

The second wave is thought to have been caused by multiple clusters in the capital, which saw a daily record of 423 new cases, especially in its densely populated suburbs.

The area, which is home to about half of South Korea's 52 million people, is under level 2.5 restrictions. This means gatherings of more than 50 people are banned and restaurants are prohibited from serving customers after 9pm.

Many residents of Seoul have started stocking up on food and other essential supplies in anticipation the city will be locked down for the first time to halt the spread of the disease.

"I have already ordered dozens of instant rice packages online, and many of my friends and their families are rushing to large supermarkets," one resident, who only gave her surname Lee, told Reuters.

Our World in Data
Our World in Data

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun has warned. “The top priority is securing more hospital beds. Full administrative power should be mobilised so that no patient would wait for more than a day before being assigned to her bed.”

Tighter social distancing rules have failed to reverse the trend and the government has warned it may have to impose harsher restrictions on business activity, though it says that move would only be a last resort.

The government has also cut its 2021 growth forecast and vowed to continue to support workers and exporters as a resurgence of the coronavirus has delayed its recovery and forced the government to keep its fiscal taps wide open