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(3rd LD) More than 90 infections linked to Seoul call center, numbers feared to rise

All News 11:47 March 11, 2020

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; ADDS figures, details from press briefing throughout, photo)
By Lee Minji

SEOUL, March 11 (Yonhap) -- A total of 93 cases of coronavirus infection were found to be linked to a call center in southwestern Seoul, the capital's mayor said Wednesday, spawning concerns about potential mass transmission in the metropolitan area that is home to 25 million people.

"Based on a screening of 207 employees working at a call center on the 11th floor of Korea Building, 93 cases have been confirmed. The figure includes family members of the call center employees," Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said in a press briefing.

A total of 553 call center employees who work on the seventh to ninth floors of the building in the Sindorim neighborhood are being screened, he said, adding that no additional cases have been found outside of the 11th floor.

Among the cases, Seoul accounted for the highest number of infections with 65 patients, followed by 15 in Incheon, west of Seoul, and 13 in Gyeonggi Province, according to Park.

The call center infection is so far the biggest COVID-19 infection cluster in Seoul, which is home to 10 million people. When including the nearby Gyeonggi Province and Incheon, the case poses a potential risk to the wider metropolitan area's population of 25 million.

This file photo shows the exterior of an office building in southwestern Seoul where COVID-19 infections occurred at a call center located on the 11th floor. (Yonhap)

"Seoul city will make sure to act in a clear and meticulous manner, so that the call center group transmission will not develop into the cases seen in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province," Park said, referring to the southeastern regions that have been pounded by infections related to the minor religious sect Shincheonji.

Commercial and office spaces on the first to 12th floors of the building, which include a wedding hall and a Starbucks franchise, have been shut down, while the city government is closely monitoring residents who live on the 13th to 19th floors of the building, he said.

Park said that two out of the 207 workers were found to be followers of the fringe religious sect Shincheonji, which is associated with more than 60 percent of South Korea's total infections.

The two workers have so far tested negative, but Park said the city government will look into the case for possible links.

According to government figures from midnight Tuesday, South Korea has reported 7,755 infections since its first confirmed case on Jan. 20.

Cases in Seoul sharply jumped to 193, up 52 from the previous day, according to the data by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health officials examine residents at a virus screening center set up on the first floor of a building in southwestern Seoul on March 11, 2020. (Yonhap)



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