South Korea sets up checkpoints, 'bus walls' to block protests amid Covid-19 concerns

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  • Police officers in South Korea have mobilised buses at various checkpoints to defend themselves against political rallies.
  • These demonstrations are currently happening in the Seoul capital amid threats of new coronavirus variants.
  • The nation has had a successful coronavirus handling story, but the Delta variant has led to a massive spike in new infections. 

South Korean police mobilised hundreds of buses and set up dozens of checkpoints on Sunday to fend off political rallies in the capital Seoul, as some groups pushed ahead with annual protests in defiance of warnings over the novel coronavirus.

South Korea has largely been held up as a coronavirus success story, but is grappling with a fourth wave of infection that brought more than 2 200 new daily cases last week for the first time, partly fuelled by the more transmissible Delta variant.

The government has banned protests and vowed punishment for any legal violation ahead of Sunday's Liberation Day, warning of a revival of an outbreak from an anti-government rally and a church last August which resulted in more than 1 800 cases.

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Police parked busses along main avenues and around a large square in downtown Seoul to seal them off, while setting up more than 80 checkpoints to block vehicles carrying demonstrators and equipment.

The subway and public buses did not stop at several stations around potential protest venues.

But footage from local TV networks showed several groups encouraging individual protests and marches where participants maintain distance from each other, to protest issues as varied as government policy and worker rights.

On Saturday, police disbanded an organisation that hosted last August's rally. A court also issued an arrest warrant for the leader of a major labour union for arranging multiple illegal protests since May.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency posted:
  • 1 817 new cases for Saturday, the highest recorded on any Saturday since the pandemic began last year.
  • Total infection cases rose to 223 928, with 2 156 deaths.

The fourth wave came as South Korea struggles to kickstart its inoculation drive amid vaccine shortage and shipment delays, though it has secured 193 million doses for its 52 million population.

Only 19% of South Koreans have been fully vaccinated as of Saturday, KDCA data showed, but President Moon Jae-in, in his Liberation Day speech on Sunday, vowed to boost that number to 70% by October, without detailing how.

About 43.6% of the population have received at least one dose of vaccine. The government's previous target was to reach 70% by September.

If you come across Covid-19 vaccination information that you do not trust, read Covid-19 vaccine myths debunked: Get the facts here

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