Authorities in South Korea have said the country is experiencing a second wave of the coronavirus in and around Seoul, and warned that stronger physical-distancing measures will be reimposed if the daily increase in infections does not come down.
Confirmation of the new wave came as the Israeli government said a lockdown could be reintroduced amid a sharp rise in cases, and a team of contact tracing experts prepared to deploy to the Australian state of Victoria to tackle a new outbreak in Melbourne.
The new outbreaks once again highlight the difficulties of fully eradicating the virus, even in countries considered role models in their initial response to the pandemic.
They came as the pandemic continued its spread worldwide. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization, on Monday warned it was still accelerating and while it had taken three months to reach the first one million cases, the last one million had come in just eight days. Known infections are now at more than 8.9m.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) on Monday said it had become clear that a holiday weekend in early May marked the beginning of a new wave of infections focused in the densely populated Seoul area.
“In the metropolitan area, we believe that the first wave was from March to April as well as February to March,” the KCDC director, Jeong Eun-kyeong, told reporters.
“Then we see that the second wave, which was triggered by the May holiday, has been going on.”
As of midnight on Sunday, South Korea had reported 17 new coronavirus cases – the first time in nearly a month that daily new cases had dropped below 20.
It was a drop from the 48 and 67 cases reported in the previous two days. South Korea has reported a total of 12,438 cases, with 280 deaths.
At the end of February, South Korea reported a peak of more than 900 cases in a day, in the first large outbreak of the coronavirus outside of China.
An intensive tracking and testing campaign reduced the numbers to single digits by late April.
But just as the country announced it would be easing physical-distancing guidelines in early May, new cases spiked, driven in part by infections among young people who visited nightclubs and bars in Seoul over the holiday weekend.
As long as people have close contact with others, we believe that infections will continue
“We originally predicted that the second wave would emerge in fall or winter,” Jeong said. “Our forecast turned out to be wrong. As long as people have close contact with others, we believe that infections will continue.”
The mayor of Seoul, Park Won-soon, said stronger physical-distancing measures would be reintroduced if the daily jump in infections did not dip below an average of 30 over the next three days.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said his government was weighing up its options amid a significant rise in Covid-19 cases.
The country has more than 20,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with new infections jumping by more than 300 in recent days. At least 305 people have died with the virus since the country’s outbreak began in March.
“If we don’t immediately change our behaviour regarding wearing masks and keeping distance, we will bring upon ourselves, against our will, a return to lockdowns,” Netanyahu said on Sunday, adding: “None of us wants this.”
The government of South Australia said three contact-tracing experts were being dispatched to Melbourne in neighbouring Victoria, and would spend three weeks helping local health workers there following a new outbreak.
“Victoria has had a significant surge and there have been more than 116 cases identified in the last seven days and 75% of those have been the result of community transmission,” said the health minister, Stephen Wade.
In Spain, three areas in the north-eastern region of Aragón were ordered back into the penultimate phase of the lockdown de-escalation process on Monday after 33 new coronavirus cases were reported on Sunday.
“We tackled the outbreak very early and managed to identify cases because we were looking for them,” said the region’s director general of public health, Francisco Javier Falo.
Spain’s health minister, Salvador Illa, said the outbreak – concentrated in the Aragonese areas of La Litera, Cinca Medio and Bajo Cinca – was “being brought under control” on Monday morning.
Illa said that 36 Covid-19 outbreaks had been detected in Spain in recent days, adding that all were under control.
Spain emerged from its three-month state of emergency on Sunday, meaning that people can once again travel between different regions. The country also opened its borders to visitors from the EU and the Schengen area on Sunday.
On Monday, New Zealand announced stricter measures to strengthen its border as an increase in flight numbers begins to bring more people home.
“While the world enters this dangerous new phase, we remain in a phase of border containment,” said the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern.
The government renewed its health order, mandating 14 days of quarantine, including a new measure to ensure that people arriving in New Zealand must have a negative Covid-19 test before leaving quarantine, and may be required to take multiple tests.
France, which fully reopened its schools for children under 15 on Monday, on Sunday saw clashes between police and people attending music festivals in Paris and the western city of Nantes.