South Korea will conscript its military to the capital Seoul to help frontline health workers deal with an alarming surge in coronavirus patients, says the government.
Nearly 700 new cases were tallied on Friday, and Reuters is reporting that most of them were locally transmitted.
The current total number of cases now stands at over 40,000 according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun is calling the current wave a crisis and says he will send soldiers to every district of the greater Seoul area to help in the battle to track down patients and ensure people obey restrictions.
The surge in cases has delivered a blow to South Korea’s much admired pandemic-fighting system which avoided lockdowns and kept infections below 50 per day for much of the summer by successfully using invasive tracing, mass testing and quarantine.
But as the country moves into winter when snow and freezing temperatures are common, the number of patients in serious or severe condition is growing and health authorities are hunting for more beds nationwide.
This week, the authorities have rushed to build hospital beds in shipping containers to ease the growing strains on medical facilities as worries increase that the wave may be about to spiral out of control.
The majority of the new cases have been reported in the capital city of Seoul, the neighbouring port city of Incheon, and Gyeonggi Province, which is home to 13.5 million people and surrounds both cities.
“In order to control this wave, the greater Seoul area will be the key,” Chung told a government meeting on Friday.