South Korean police prepare for planned union rally in coronavirus-hit Seoul

High school students arrive at a high school, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Seoul, South Korea

South Korean police began forming a barricade of buses and checkpoints around the financial centre of Seoul on Saturday, in preparation for a labour union rally that is expected to draw tens of thousands of workers.

Officials denied permission for Saturday’s planned protest amid a spike in COVID-19 cases fuelled by the highly contagious Delta variant, and Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum urged Korean Confederation of Trade Union leaders to cancel the rally.

The planned protest, calling for wage hikes and measures to prevent accidents, has raised concerns about a repeat of last summer when a massive political rally traced to a church sparked a second wave of infections in South Korea.

However, as union leaders vowed to press on with the action, local television showed police setting up barricades to deter people from entering the financial district of Yeouido near downtown Seoul.

South Korea is struggling to tame an upsurge in coronavirus cases, with around 80% of locally transmitted cases continue to come from the Seoul metropolitan area, home to more than half of the country’s 52 million population. Daily case numbers hit the highest level in nearly six month on Thursday.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 794 cases as of Friday, slightly lower than the previous day.

“Holding a large protest in the greater Seoul area is an extremely dangerous move that would only add fuel to the flames of COVID-19,” Kim said on Friday, warning authorities would take all measures necessary to block the protest.

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