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(2nd LD) S. Korea's new virus cases slow to 2-week low, cluster infections still in focus

All News 11:32 March 10, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS official's remarks, details in paras 13-17)

SEOUL, March 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea said Tuesday that it has stepped up vigilance in its battle to halt the spread of the new coronavirus, with an alarming cluster of infections emerging in Seoul, although the pace of daily new infections continued to slow.

The 131 new cases, which were detected on Monday, brought the nation's total number of infections to 7,513, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Monday's additional cases were far below the daily increases of 500 or more last week and marked the slowest one-day rise in confirmed cases in two weeks.

So far, 54 people, mostly elderly patients with underlying illnesses, have died in South Korea from the respiratory virus that emerged in China late last year, the KCDC said.

This graphic, provided by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) on March 10, 2020, shows daily new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and total infections in South Korea. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

About 63 percent of confirmed cases have been linked to a branch of the Shincheonji religious sect in Daegu, which, at a population of 2.5 million, is the country's fourth-largest city.

The pace of daily new inflections has shown signs of slowing in recent days as health authorities have completed extensive testing of 210,000 Shincheonji followers who are at the center of the rapid spread, but authorities are still on high alert over new clusters of infections.

Of the 131 new cases, which were detected on Monday, 92 are in Daegu and 10 are in North Gyeongsang, the KCDC said. The total number of confirmed cases in Daegu and North Gyeongsang, the two epicenters of the virus outbreak here, stood at 5,663 and 1,117, respectively.

With Daegu and North Gyeongsang still accounting for some 90 percent of daily new infections, other major provinces and cities have also reported some infections.

Seoul's virus caseload rose by 11 to 141, and Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds Seoul, saw its confirmed cases climb by 11 to 163. New cases were detected in other cities, including Daejeon, Gwangju and Sejong.

Nurses at Dongsan Hospital in virus-hit Daegu smile despite their hard work on March 9, 2020, with bandages on their cheeks and foreheads due to wearing goggles for a long time. (Yonhap)

In what seems to be the largest cluster of infections in Seoul so far, at least 34 people linked to a call center in southern Seoul had tested positive for the virus as of Monday, highlighting concerns about the virus' spread in confined spaces.

Another 153 employees and trainees at the call center have been asked to get tested, local officials said.

The 12-story building in Shindorim-dong was shut down and disinfection work began on Monday.

Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health ministry official who is in charge of quarantine work, said in a daily briefing that the nation's coronavirus outbreak has entered a phase of stability but that no one should let their guard down.

The number of new confirmed cases fell over the weekend because the number of tests declined, Yoon said.

"It's a situation where we must see the trend in coming days," Yoon said.

The country is set to expand the number of isolation facilities to 12 by Tuesday, and such facilities can house as many as 3,000 virus patients, Yoon said.

Yoon urged stepped up containment efforts for confined spaces, including call centers.

Since raising the virus alert level to "red," the highest level, on Feb. 23, health authorities have focused on halting the spread of the virus in Daegu and North Gyeongsang.

South Korea had released a total of 247 fully recovered novel coronavirus patients from hospitals as of Monday, up 81 from a day earlier, the KCDC said. It was the biggest one-day rise in the daily number of cured virus patients.

The number of people being checked for the virus and under quarantine came to 18,452 as of Monday, up 994 from the day before, it said. The country has tested a total of 202,631 suspected cases, with 184,179 testing negative.

Currently, there is no evidence that the new coronavirus is airborne. The World Health Organization said the virus is transmitted through droplets or close contact.


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