‘Each Day Is Critical’: South Korea’s 11th-Hour Battle with Covid

SEOUL, South Korea — In several provinces across South Korea, there are no I.C.U. beds available to treat the rapidly rising number of Covid-19 patients. As of Monday, the government confirmed that there were only 42 beds available nationwide. In the Seoul metropolitan area, home to half of the country’s population and the majority of its recent infections, there were just six. ​

The latest explosion of coronavirus cases in South Korea has put the country on edge in a way that it has not been since the beginning of the pandemic. If cases can’t be brought under control and the strain on hospitals continues to deteriorate, the government may for the first time impose Level 3 restrictions, the highest level of social-distancing rules ​short of a lockdown in South Korea.

A quiet fear has taken hold in a country that for much of the year was held up as a model for the rest of the world. The streets of Seoul are growing more empty by the day. Supermarkets have reported brisk sales of instant noodles and meal kits. Restaurant owners are anxious they will be forced to close their doors to dine-in customers, taking orders for takeout only.