South Korean health officials have warned residents to take current restrictions seriously, as the country faces the possibility of entering into its first potential lockdown since the beginning of the pandemic.
South Korea has long been considered a model country for its effective Covid-19 response. Despite being among the first countries to be hit by the virus, it has managed to avoid the type of stringent lockdown measures seen elsewhere in the world, thanks largely to a combination of aggressive testing and sophisticated track and trace techniques.
But as the pandemic drags on into winter, the emergence of a so-called "third wave" has resulted in an apparently untraceable rise in new infections.
Rising cases: On Tuesday, South Korea reported 1,078 new cases -- the country's highest daily count yet -- bringing the national total to 45,442, according to the Health Ministry. The majority of the cases were locally transmitted.
Some 226 patients are in critical condition, while there were an additional 12 deaths Tuesday, increasing total fatalities to 612.
Speaking Wednesday, senior Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho urged people to follow social distancing measures in the Seoul metropolitan area, which accounts for around half of the country's 51 million population.
Officials are now debating whether to raise restrictions to a higher alert level, with many concerned it could harm small businesses and the self-employed.
Last ICU bed: Seoul now only has one single ICU bed dedicated to Covid-19 left in the city, the acting mayor said on Wednesday.
Some 77 of the total 78 dedicated beds are occupied by coronavirus patients. And 85.7% of total dedicated beds across hospitals are occupied, adding extra strain to health systems that are already struggling.
The city will secure 18 additional ICU beds by end of the year, authorities said.
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