Classes in the capital and its surrounding province are to be held online for the next fortnight, the education ministry said on Tuesday, after at least 150 students and 43 staff in the Seoul area tested positive for the virus in the last two weeks.
The Korean Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (KCDC) reported 280 new cases and one death on Monday; down from 397 on Saturday, a figure not seen since early March. Of Monday’s new cases, 212 were found in the capital, 16 came from foreign arrivals and the rest from elsewhere in the country.
Residents of the densely populated capital area, home to roughly one-fifth of South Korea’s population, have been advised to refrain from travelling to other cities as health officials say the country is at risk of a nationwide outbreak.
“This week will be critical for us to determine if we can contain the virus and flatten the curve going forwards, so we ask members of the public to participate in our quarantine measures,” Yoon Tae-Ho, a senior official in South Korea’s health ministry said at a briefing on Tuesday.
Residents of Seoul have this week been ordered to wear masks in both indoor and outdoor public spaces for the first time, and high-risk venues including nightclubs, bars and churches have been ordered to close.
On Tuesday, health minister Park Neung-hoo pleaded with thousands of doctors to return to work after mass walkouts in protest against a government proposal to increase the number of medical students by 4,000 over the next decade. The Korean Medical Association, which helped to organise the strike, says the country already has more than enough doctors.
“We sincerely ask the medical staff to promptly return to the medical ground, where the patients are awaiting,” Mr Park said at a meeting.
South Korea has reported a total of 17,945 cases so far in the coronavirus pandemic with 310 deaths.