South Korea on Tuesday reported a total of 40 deaths related to the coronavirus, the highest daily number since the pandemic began.
Officials also recorded 1,046 new confirmed infections, taking the total to 58,725 with 859 deaths. Of the new cases, 1,030 were locally transmitted and more than half were found in Seoul.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun expressed regret over a mass cluster infection in a Seoul prison, with a total 757 infections, and called for all-out prevention measures.
Authorities had ramped up testing to track down potential cases of unknown origin and those that display no symptoms, especially in the Seoul metropolitan area.
More than half a million tests were conducted in testing centers in the greater Seoul area over the past two weeks. At least 1,400 patients were identified.
Seoul plans to start its vaccinations in February, with health workers and vulnerable people to be prioritized. Many South Koreans criticized the government’s late approval of vaccines, as the US and the UK have already started their immunization programs.
On Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in’s office said he had spoken to Moderna Inc Chief Executive Officer Stéphane Bancel to confirm plans to sign a deal for enough doses from that company to cover 20 million people.
South Korea has already added new restrictions this week such as banning gatherings of more than four people and suspending ski resorts and tourist sports – the most crowded places during Christmas and New Year holidays.
South Korea has discovered its first cases of the new coronavirus variant linked to Britain on Monday. The new variant, thought to be more transmissible, was found in three people who entered South Korea from London on December 22.
The new strain of the virus emerged earlier this month in Britain, causing chaos among holiday travelers. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned citizens to be more cautious and avoid large gatherings. The UK is known to celebrate grand Christmas and New Year events.
Several European countries, as well as Canada, Jordan and Japan have also detected the new variant within their territories.