New coronavirus cases in South Korea have reached the highest level in five months, and authorities fear infections are getting out of control in the Seoul region, which is home to half the country’s 51 million people.
Officials reported 166 new cases on Saturday. That is the highest since March 11, when South Korea reported 242 amid an outbreak in the southeastern city of Daegu and nearby towns.
With 103 new cases reported on Friday, this is the first time since late March that the daily increase has surpassed 100 two days in a row.
Officials said all but 11 of the new cases were local transmissions, and most were in the Seoul area.
Lee Jae-myung, governor of Gyeonggi province near Seoul, issued an administrative order to shut down the province’s 15,779 religious facilities – mostly Christian churches – for two weeks to slow the spread of the virus.
Churches have emerged as major sources of infections after many of them failed to require worshippers to wear masks or allowed them to sing in choirs or eat together in diners.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said authorities would be forced to consider elevating social distancing measures if transmissions continued to rise.
That could include bans on large gatherings, shutting high-risk facilities, such as karaoke bars, and again banning spectators from sports stadiums.