South Korea was a country that seemingly had the coronavirus under control and was widely praised for its effective response to COVID-19. Now hospital beds are now running short.

South Korea Struggles Under Third Wave

The country is currently going through its worst crisis since the outbreak of the pandemic. Given the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 infections, there are hardly any beds available for seriously ill coronavirus patients.

Doctors in South Korea are under pressure to decide who the beds will be assigned to whom. Over five hundred COVID patients are reportedly currently waiting to be admitted to the hospitals, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health said in Seoul on Friday.

South Korea’s Minister of Health, Park Neung-hoo, even spoke of Seoul being a “COVID-19 warzone.”

In spring, the country was unanimously praised for its handling of the virus. With coronavirus mass tests and meticulous tracking of infection chains, Seoul was able to locate infection clusters quickly and successfully contain them across the country. It minimized the burden on the hospitals, and doctors and nurses could concentrate on seriously ill patients.

COVID-19 is Getting Out of Control in South Korea

The results were positive. The country has only had about 50,000 infections and 659 deaths. However, the comparatively low mortality rate is likely to rise rapidly from now on in view of the health system’s overloaded status. Over 1,000 new COVID infections were registered for the fourth day in a row on Saturday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Moreover, the current wave is also making it difficult to treat other serious illnesses, likely resulting in more deaths.

The Ministry of Health instructed all large hospitals and university clinics on Friday to move some of their beds from other wards and make them available to seriously ill COVID patients.

What About Contact Tracing?

South Korea’s contact tracing was seen as a role model around the world at the start of the pandemic. It was also so successful because the government relied on smartphone and location data without any great inhibitions or privacy concerns from citizens. Credit card statements were also used to track people’s movements. Given the tremendous success of the measures, the Korean public backed the invasion of privacy.

However, given the rise in infections, the routes are no longer traceable and have become too jumbled together.

One reason for the increase in cases is likely the cold weather. Sub-zero temperatures mean that people across the country spend a lot of time in poorly-ventilated indoor spaces, which increases the risk of infection. However, Seoul’s coronavirus policy could also have played a role. In October, for example, Korea’s provisions for social distancing were lowered to the lowest level for economic reasons.

Seoul’s Return to Work May be to Blame

The South Korean return to work boosted industrial production significantly. In the first ten days of December alone, Korean manufacturers exported 52 percent and 60 percent more semiconductors and mobile phones than in the same period of the previous year, according to Asia’s fourth-largest economy’s customs authorities.

However, the revitalization of economic life appears to have brought the virus to the fore once again. After it became clear in November that the opening had pushed the numbers up, the government made a U-turn. Schools in Seoul were closed, and traditional celebrations and end-of-year gatherings were banned. Nonetheless, the authorities are still having a hard time calling out the third and highest coronavirus alert level for the first time.

At level three, everyone except essential shops would have to close, meetings of more than ten people would be prohibited. According to the authorities, the first declaration of a real lockdown for South Korea would result in the closure of 1.2 million smaller businesses, which would drive many entrepreneurs to the brink of ruin.

In the face of worrying developments, South Korea is now “with its back to the wall,” as President Moon Jae-in said last week.