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(LEAD) S. Korea tracking hidden virus cases tied to Itaewon amid community spread concerns

All News 11:57 May 13, 2020

(ATTN: CHANGES lead; ADDS more info in paras 2-7, photo)

SEOUL, May 13 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's health authorities again urged those who visited Itaewon in Seoul, the site of yet another cluster infection, to receive coronavirus tests amid growing concerns over community spread.

The 26 new cases of COVID-19, with 20 of them tied to nightclubs and bars in Itaewon, brought the nation's total novel coronavirus cases to 10,962, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

The number of cases connected to bars and clubs in the popular nightlife district of Itaewon has reached 111 amid growing concerns over a possible new wave of virus infections in the country, the KCDC said.

So far, 20,000 people received virus tests due to the virus outbreak in Itaewon.

Health workers at the National Medical Center in Seoul prepare to work on May 13, 2020. (Yonhap)

Health authorities once again pressed those who visited Itaewon clubs and bars between April 24 and May 6 to take tests for COVID-19 and fully cooperate with their epidemiological investigations.

"Preventing community spread of the virus is a time game," Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said. "If health authorities can't take actions properly due to incorrect statements, we may not stem secondary and tertiary infections and our entire society could be put at risk again."

South Korea had been adding fewer than 15 cases of COVID-19 since mid-April, with the number of domestic infections even falling to zero at some points.

But the number of daily new cases has been hovering around 30 for the past three days after the country saw an unexpected spike in cases coming from entertainment facilities, with secondary and suspected tertiary infections also reported.

Imported cases, previously the biggest threat for South Korea's quarantine operations over recent days, are now less of a concern, although the country still reported four more such cases.

South Korea's virus death toll climbed to 259 after adding one more fatality, according to the KCDC, with the mortality rate reaching 2.36 percent.

The total number of people released from quarantine after full recoveries stood at 9,695, up 25 from a day earlier, bringing the nation's virus recovery rate to 88.4 percent.

A health worker collects sample from a police for the novel coronavirus test at the National Medical Center in Seoul on May 13, 2020. (Yonhap)

After flattening the curve of COVID-19, South Korea gave the go-ahead last Wednesday to its "everyday life quarantine" scheme, the normalization of public facilities and other business establishments, under the condition they follow basic sanitation measures.

But due to the recent surge in virus cases, the country decided to push back the reopening of schools by one week, making students physically attend classes in phases starting next Wednesday.

Seoul and other municipal governments have issued an administrative order that bans gatherings at entertainment establishments, a de facto instruction that has forced club and bar owners to suspend their businesses.

kdon@yna.co.kr
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