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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on March 12)

All News 07:11 March 12, 2020

New level of threat
Seoul should brace for possible mass contagion

Concerns are growing that the novel coronavirus may spread rapidly in Seoul and the surrounding metropolitan area following a mass infection at a call center in Guro-gu, southwestern Seoul.

Since greater Seoul is home to some 26 million people, it will be disastrous if the government fails to contain the spread of the virus there. This is a new level of threat that could turn the country's fight against the virus into a completely different story. There should be quick and aggressive measures to prevent a wider transmission in the region ― particularly in confined places such as the call center.

Detailing the situation in the capital, Mayor Park Won-soon said Wednesday he was considering closing privately-run call centers inside the city temporarily if they weren't following the government's safety guidance. According to Park, there are 745 call centers nationwide, and 417 of them are located in Seoul. He also hinted at similar administrative measures for clubs, bars, fitness centers, karaoke rooms and other places vulnerable to mass transmissions of the virus. This indicates the ongoing war against COVID-19 is entering a new phase. Strengthened measures are indeed necessary for all places that could turn into infection clusters at anytime.

As of Wednesday morning, COVID-19 infections linked to the call center in Guro-gu increased to 90. As a result, cases in Seoul sharply jumped to 193. This is only the interim result of tests on only 207 employees who worked on the same floor of the virus-hit building, and their family members. Mayor Park said hundreds of call center workers on different floors are also being screened.

Notably, two of the call center employees were found to be members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive religious sect blamed for the ballooning outbreak nationwide. The two Shincheonji members have tested negative, but the city government is looking into a possible link between the religious group and the mass infection at the call center, the mayor said.

The latest case was particularly alarming because there had been cautious predictions that the COVID-19 outbreak in South Korea may have reached a peak. According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the government detected 242 new cases, Tuesday ― the first increase of new daily reported virus cases in five days. This brought the nation's total number of infections to 7,755; about 90 percent of which have occurred in Daegu and the surrounding North Gyeongsang Province.

As the virus is more easily transmitted in confined places, such as factories, offices and hospitals, there should be more thorough preventive measures for workers in these places. Particular attention should also be paid to those living in school dormitories and soldiers in barracks.

(END)

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