Jin Yu Young and
As countries in Asia accelerate their vaccination efforts with an eye toward easing restrictions and fully reopening their economies, some are reporting a rise in new infections.
In South Korea, officials said on Friday that they would extend social distancing regulations for another two weeks starting on Monday, amid the nation’s worst wave of infections. And in Singapore, Covid infections have surged to record highs in the past week, with 2,487 new infections reported on Thursday, the highest number of daily cases since the pandemic began.
The rise in South Korea’s cases has been linked to activities around Chuseok, a holiday celebrating the fall harvest when many families traveled to gather together. Health officials reported 2,486 new daily cases on Friday, the eighth consecutive day the number has exceeded 2,000.
“After Chuseok, the country’s cases have been rising,” said Lee Gi-il, a senior health official at the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters.
He said the next two weeks would be the “most important turning point” in South Korea’s reopening.
The nation’s capital and surrounding areas will remain under the strictest level of restrictions. Up to six people may gather socially after 6 p.m., as long as at least four are fully vaccinated. Bars, restaurants and other businesses must close at 10 p.m.
The government’s goal is to fully vaccinate 80 percent of the population by the end of October and start lifting restrictions in November. As of Thursday, more than half the population was fully vaccinated, according to health officials.
Covid hospitalizations and deaths remain low in South Korea, and most are among unvaccinated people, according to the health officials’ data. People who are fully vaccinated can still get infected and transmit the virus to other people, though fully vaccinated people are far less likely to experience severe symptoms.
Cases have also been rising in Singapore, where 82 percent of the population was fully vaccinated as of Wednesday, and the government put tighter restrictions in place this week.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week advised unvaccinated people to avoid nonessential travel to Singapore.
The new rules there limit gatherings to two people and include a policy of working from home by default. Singapore has also imposed severe restrictions on hundreds of thousands of migrant workers for the past year and a half.
Other countries in Asia are reporting more success in slowing the spread of the virus and are rolling back restrictions. Japan’s state of emergency was lifted this week after a steady decline in new cases, making it the first time since April that the entire country is not under the measure. And Vietnam’s capital, Ho Chi Minh City, started easing its restrictions on Friday.