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(LEAD) Small-scale cluster infections set authorities on edge amid case slowdown

All News 22:23 March 09, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS info on small infectious cluster in Seoul in para 12)

SEOUL, March 9 (Yonhap) -- The pace of daily new cases of the novel coronavirus has shown signs of slowing down, but alarming small-sized cluster infections have still been reported across the country in recent days, putting health authorities on edge.

The country reported 248 new cases of the COVID-19 virus on Monday, bringing the nation's total infections to 7,478, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said. Of the 248 new cases, which were detected on Sunday, 190 are in Daegu and 26 are in North Gyeongsang, the epicenter of the local outbreak.

It marks the first time since Feb. 26 that daily new COVID-19 cases dropped to the 200-level, as the country reported an average of more than 400 new patients every day over the past 10 days.

Medical workers in protective gear raise their fists in a gesture of solidarity before heading to negative pressure quarantine rooms at Seoul Medical Center on March 9, 2020, where patients infected with the new coronavirus are being treated. (Yonhap)

However, other major provinces and cities reported small-scale cluster infections over the weekend.

Gyeonggi Province surrounding Seoul saw its confirmed cases rise by 11 to 152 as of early Monday with numerous cluster infections.

As of late Sunday, a total of 13 people, including six patients, six medical staff and one visitor, at Bundang Jaesaeng General Hospital, south of Seoul, have tested positive for the virus, the KCDC said.

The confirmed patients previously came into contact with a 77-year-old cancer patient who was admitted to the hospital on March 1 and tested positive for the virus on Thursday.

"It is true that additional cases are slowing down, but it is hard to say that things are getting better," Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said in a daily briefing.

The official said many new virus cases are still being reported in Daegu and neighboring North Gyeongsang Province, and sporadic and small-scale mass infections are on a steady rise.

"It is the time to put in more efforts to make new cases sharply drop ... and further tighten nationwide quarantine," he said.

Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip speaks during a press conference at the government complex in Sejong, central South Korea, on March 9, 2020, about the spread of the new coronavirus in the country. (Yonhap)

Seoul has also reported a total of 75 COVID-19 patients who are linked to clusters of infections resulting from so-called community spread as of late Sunday, KCDC said.

Of those, 15 employees of an insurance company call center that operated out of a building in Guro Ward, in the southwestern part of the city, have tested positive. Local authorities and one family member of the call center also contracted the virus, with the 12-story building being closed for disinfection. It said other employees will be checked on Tuesday.

Besides this, a new cluster of infections was reported in Dongdaemun Ward, where a couple in their 60s and their daughter in her 30s, along with her four-week-old infant, all tested positive for the virus.

Also, a small cluster infections linked to a religious sect related to most cases in the country occurred in Daegu over the weekend.

Out of 140 residents at an apartment building in Daegu, 46 patients are Shincheonji followers, and some of them had lived in the same homes. The building has been under a lockdown since last Saturday.


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