(ATTN: ADDS official's remarks, details in paras 14-18; RECASTS lead para)
SEOUL, March 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea reported an uptick in new daily coronavirus cases on Wednesday, reversing five straight days of fewer new cases, as the country grapples with clusters of infections in Seoul and neighboring areas.
The 242 new cases, which were detected on Tuesday, brought the nation's total number of infections to 7,755, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), with 76 in Seoul and neighboring areas.
Still, Tuesday's additional cases were far below the daily increases of 500 or more last week but higher than the 131 new cases detected on Monday.
So far, 60 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.
About 63 percent of confirmed cases have been linked to a branch of the Shincheonji religious sect in Daegu, which, with a population of 2.5 million, is the country's fourth-largest city.
The pace of daily new inflections had shown signs of slowing in recent days as health authorities 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, including a call center in Seoul's Guro district.
Of the 242 new cases, which were detected on Tuesday, 131 are in Daegu and 18 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 5,794 and 1,135, respectively.
While Daegu and North Gyeongsang still account for a majority of daily new infections, clusters of infections in Seoul and neighboring areas area threatening to worsen.
Seoul's virus caseload jumped by 52 to 193, and Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds Seoul, saw its confirmed cases climb by 12 to 175. Incheon, west of Seoul, also reported 12 new confirmed cases, bringing the city's total infections to 25.
New cases were detected in other major provinces and cities, including South Chungcheong, Gangwon and Sejong.
In the largest cluster of infections in Seoul so far, at least 90 people linked to a call center in southern Seoul had tested positive for the virus as of Tuesday, highlighting concerns about the virus' spread in confined spaces.
Employees and trainees at the call center, as well as those who have come into contact with them, have been asked to get tested, local officials said.
The 19-story building in Shindorim Neighborhood in Guro Ward 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 if workers show symptoms at confined workplaces, they should be allowed to work from home or take a leave.
Internet cafes, karaoke rooms and fitness centers, along with call centers, are confined spaces where the virus can easily spread, Yoon said.
The government plans to require such facilities to beef up containment measures, Yoon said.
To cope with an increase in confirmed cases in Seoul and its neighboring areas, the authorities will ask local governments to set up isolation facilities there, Yoon said.
Because it is increasingly difficult to trace people who came into contact with confirmed carriers who have taken buses or subways, companies need to adjust commuting times, Yoon said.
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 288 fully recovered novel coronavirus patients from hospitals as of Tuesday, up 41 from a day earlier, the KCDC said.
The number of people being checked for the virus and under quarantine came to 18,540 as of Tuesday, up 88 from the day before, it said. The country has tested a total of 214,640 suspected cases, with 196,100 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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