South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Monday ordered the government to mobilise every available resource to track Covid-19 infections and to expand testing by deploying the military and more people from the public service as the country struggled to control its latest and largest wave of infections.
Presidential Blue House spokesman Chung Man-ho disclosed the information at a briefing, reports Reuters.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 615 new coronavirus cases as of midnight Sunday, capping a month of triple-digit daily increases that have led to 8,311 confirmed patients in quarantine, the most ever.
Moon said testing sites should operate longer hours to allow people working to get tested at their convenience and more drive-through testing facilities should be set up. The positive rate for the latest batch of tests was about 4.2%, compared to the year's average of 1.2%, according to the KDCA.
Meanwhile, military moves were afoot in Japan as well, where Chief Government Spokesman Katsunobu Kato said on Monday that Self-Defense Forces nurses were preparing to be deployed to Osaka and Hokkaido to help treat a surge in coronavirus infections as soon as the two prefecture governments request it.
The city of Asahikawa, about 140 km (87 miles) north of Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido, is reeling from infection clusters at two hospitals and a care home. By Sunday, the number of cases recorded on the island was more than 10,000, and Asahikawa had accounted for 16% of the 256 deaths.
It prompted the government to announce the plan on Monday.
"Hokkaido is a place where due to the climate conditions people tend to have the heater on very high and in very closed spaces as well," said Haruo Ozaki, president of the Tokyo Medical Association.
"In places such as Tokyo and Osaka, it will also be getting colder from now. When we add this coldness factor, it shows that we need to express a lot more caution or we could face a further spread of contagion."
Asahikawa, a city of 340,000 people, holds the record for Japan's lowest recorded temperature of -41C (-41.8F) in 1902. Researchers have warned that airborne transmission of the virus increase when people spend more time in closed-up rooms breathing dry air.