Dear Seoul citizens. This is Seo Jung-hyup, acting mayor of Seoul.
As of midnight on Mon, Nov. 23, the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases in Seoul reached 7,625, an increase of 112 from the previous day. The increase has grown sharply since Wed, Nov. 18, and hit a record high in less than a week, surpassing the most confirmed cases of the pandemic in August.
In the past week, when the number of confirmed cases increased sharply, the proportion of confirmed cases for ages 65 and older, who are a high-risk group, exceeded 20 %, and there were also 17.7% cases of unknown infection routes. Asymptotic cases still account for 24.2 % of the total, reaching one out of four.
While the pattern of the spread of COVID-19 has so far been through large-scale group infections from a specific base, this infection is characterized by omnidirectional spread through everyday infections. There is no safe place anymore.
We have analyzed a total of 2,514 facilities in which a large number of confirmed cases occurred from Aug. 12 to Nov. 20, a period when large-scale confirmed cases occurred. Religious facilities accounted for 36% of the total with 911 cases with the largest number. Infections in the workplace accounted for 22% with 556 cases, followed by nursing homes and hospitals for 14% with 354 cases, indoor sports facilities for 7% with 183 cases, restaurants and cafes for 6% with 143 cases, door-to-door sales businesses for 5% with 116 cases, and bath facilities for 4% with 98 cases.
And, the common characteristic of the transmission pattern is that contact and infections occur in confined, concentrated, and closed (3C) environments where it is difficult to wear a mask, keep a distance of 1 to 2 meters, and periodically ventilate.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government recognizes the severity of the current situation as a critical phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, and will respond strongly by preparing precise measures for disease control and prevention. In line with the government, we will not only raise our distance to level 2, but also declare lockdown for 10 million Seoulites starting tomorrow to the end of the year with the implementation of Seoul-style precision disease control and prevention for 10 types of facilities.
We will substantially reduce the risk of infection by analyzing the vulnerable factors of infection in 10 types of facilities where group infections occurred frequently and adding customized disease control and prevention measures.
First is religious facilities. At level 2, the number of participants is limited to 20% of capacity for regular church and temple service, but we ask for your raised awareness and strongly recommend switching to online service. I sincerely request that the religious communities take the lead in preventing the spread of infectious diseases with the great decision to once again demonstrate the dedication that religious communities have voluntarily converted to online service.
Second is related to workplace infections. Work should be maintained essentially for economic activity, but the situation is severe. As for call centers, considered one of the leading high-risk workplaces, we recommend reducing the number of employees in half through working at home. Also, please check the symptoms of workers at least twice a day, and if there are two to three or more people who suffer from a similar symptom, we will ask you to take preemptive testing for COVID-19.
Third is nursing facilities and day care centers with high risk due to the large number of elderly people, nursing facility residents will be prohibited from visiting, going out or staying out overnight, and outside instructor programs at day care centers will be suspended. We will strengthen COVID-19 diagnostic testing. We plan to conduct preemptive tests every two weeks for over 40,000 workers and users of facilities vulnerable to infection, such as nursing homes, nursing hospitals, day care centers, psychiatric institutions, and mental care facilities.
Fourth is indoor sport facilities. We will suspend indoor sports facilities after 9 PM, and suspend the use of showers since it is difficult for users to wear a mask (excluding swimming pools), and the number of users will be limited to maintain a distance of 2 meters. We will also ban gatherings at dance halls, where respiratory droplets are highly likely to spread through dancing.
Fifth is restaurants and cafes. In addition to the level 2 measures that only allow takeout and delivery all day for cafes and after 9 PM for restaurants, we recommend maintaining a distance of 2 meters between users when waiting for orders and refraining from talking while eating.
Sixth is regarding door-to-door sales. The limited capacity of visitors are reinforced to a maximum of 10, in accordance with level 2 measures, and quarantine managers must be designated and on duty for disease control and prevention. Serving meals, such as refreshments and coffee, is prohibited, as well as eating, singing and chanting. All meetings must end within 20 minutes.
Seventh is high-risk bath facilities, where it is difficult for users to wear a mask. Users are prohibited from eating food, and steam rooms cannot be in operation. In addition to limited capacity, all sections are marked so that users accessing spaces for common goods can keep at least 1 meter apart.
Eighth, the other three facilities are karaoke rooms, Internet cafes, and private academies that require special management ahead of the CSAT and college interviews, although there are not many confirmed cases recently. Karaoke room must close after 9 PM, and the Seoul Metropolitan Government will additionally recommend limiting the number of people in each room. In addition to the ban on eating and drinking at Internet cafes, it is recommended to install partitions high enough to block droplets. As for private academies, in addition to the ban on eating and drinking, we will limit the number of people using public spaces such as study rooms in the academy to 50%.
Next is regarding the operation rate of hospital beds and residential treatment centers. As of 8 PM on Sun, Nov. 22, the operation rate of hospital bed in the hospitals in charge of infectious diseases in the metropolitan area is 51.3%, and it is 61.9% in Seoul. In Seoul, 42 out of 53 dedicated treatment beds for severely ill patients are in use, leaving only 11 beds available immediately. There are currently 4 residential treatment centers in operation, and the operation rate is 60.6%. We plan to continue securing 4 additional locations in sequence, but if this continues, the public health system may reach a level that cannot be handled. This is why we must stop the spread with all our might.
Since the beginning of this year, we have crossed numerous difficulties together.
And we are once again at a critical crossroads.
If we don’t overcome this crisis, all our efforts and sacrifices so far will be in vain.
We must all adamantly stop first before COVID-19 stops everything.
The right time for all-out quarantine and all-out warfare is now.
There is no place to retreat—no more hesitation.
Disease control and prevention for COVID-19 starts with you and your surroundings.
① Ventilate every 2 hours even if it is cold;
② Refrain from year-end gatherings and stay with your family at home;
③ Do not stay long in a non-ventilated facilities;
④ Get tested immediately, if suspected; and
⑤ Wear a mask and thoroughly disinfect your hands.
During the year-end and New Year holidays, I hope that you observe these five codes of conduct thoroughly.
Above all, please refrain from unnecessary outings, meetings, and visits with extra caution because the risk of COVID-19 may linger wherever you visit and whoever you meet. Especially, since you can’t wear a mask at meals and dining together, I ask you to cancel all meetings and appointments at the end of this year and stay with your family at home. I firmly believe that ending the year without gatherings will lead to starting the new year with high hopes.
Therefore, the city of Seoul plans to inevitably shorten public transportation operations to counter the recent increase in passengers as well as minimize unnecessary travel for year-end gatherings and late-night hours.
We will reduce the number of buses and subways by 20% starting Tue, Nov. 24 for city buses and after 10 PM on Fri, Nov. 27 for subways after a short grace period. If an emergency situation continues in the future, we plan to push for an additional reduction of last train time from 12 AM to 11 PM.
Assemblies of 10 or more people across Seoul are also prohibited starting midnight on Tue, Nov. 24 until further notice.
Reflecting the characteristics of Seoul, which is highly risky to nth infection due to its high population density and large floating population, we have decided to take preemptive measures equivalent to level 3 social distancing.
Seoul has prepared special measures to prepare for the CSAT and college interviews.
We plan to operate a joint task force with the City Office of Education and autonomous districts, and conduct special intensive quarantine for each test stage. First of all, we plan to intensively quarantine 6 types of intensive management facilities, such as restaurants and cafes where examinees visiting frequently, starting a week before the CSAT, and to thoroughly check compliance with the quarantine regulations at 1,800 locations including the entire cram schools and training centers. The entire 3 types of facilities, such as karaoke rooms, Internet cafes, and movie theaters, will also be thoroughly inspected.
And, starting with the Seoul Metropolitan Government, we will strengthen the welfare of our employees and the level of disease control and prevention in the workplace, and expand the practice for private companies to follow suit.
In principle, one-third of employees will work from home, and employees with examinees will work from home until the day of the exam (Thu, Dec. 3). We will be strictly restricting outside meals and dining together with 10 or more people, and refrain from private gatherings.
I urge all citizens to actively participate in the lockdown for 10 million Seoulites, leaving only the minimum activities necessary for your livelihoods so that a break from daily life can stop the spread of COVID-19. In addition, I would like to express my deep gratitude to SMEs and those who are self-employed for cooperating with the authorities while enduring sacrifices and loss. Thank you.