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(2nd LD) S. Korea at critical juncture to stem further cases linked to Itaewon cluster

All News 11:33 May 15, 2020

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SEOUL, May 15 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Friday reported 29 more coronavirus cases, with most tied to cluster infections in Seoul, putting health authorities on alert against secondary and tertiary infections.

The 27 new cases of COVID-19 detected Thursday, with 22 of them being local infections, brought the nation's total number to 11,018, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Of the 27 cases, 17 are connected to bars and clubs in Seoul's popular nightlife district of Itaewon, bringing the total number to 148, according to the KCDC.

Health authorities are staying vigilant against the community spread of COVID-19 connected to the Itaewon cluster that began early this month, urging those who visited places in the neighborhood to get virus tests.

They view this weekend as a critical juncture for the country to contain the further spread of the new coronavirus tied to the capital city's second-largest mass infection.

Park Min-young, the homeroom teacher of a sixth-grade class, teaches a teleclass at an empty classroom in Borame Elementary School in Seoul, on May 15, 2020, Teachers' Day, as South Korea has introduced online classes for elementary, middle and high schools during the coronavirus pandemic. On the screen is a message in Korean that says "Mr. Park, Thank You." (Yonhap)

South Korea had added fewer than 15 cases of COVID-19 since mid-April, with the number of domestic infections even falling to zero on some days.

However, the number of daily new cases has been between 20 and 30 for the past six days after the country saw an unexpected spike in cases coming from entertainment facilities in Seoul's Itaewon area, with secondary and tertiary infections reported not only in Seoul but other cities.

"A slew of secondary and tertiary infections have been reported across the country," Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said. "We expect to witness small-sized cluster infection cases down the road."

In an effort to prevent the Itaewon infection cluster from expanding into a mass outbreak, health authorities said they will disinfect nightclubs and bars this weekend.

Of the 22 new local infections, 14 are from Seoul, followed by the western port city of Incheon with four, the KCDC said.

Besides the Itaewon cluster, the KCDC said a total of 15 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in connection with a private academy instructor from Incheon.

The instructor has come under fire after lying about his occupation following his recent visit to a Itaewon club.

For South Korea's quarantine operations, imported cases are now less of a concern, though the country reported five more such cases Friday.

South Korea's virus deaths remained the same at 260, according to the KCDC, with the mortality rate reaching 2.37 percent.

The total number of people released from quarantine after full recoveries stood at 9,821, up 59 from a day earlier, the KCDC said.

The country has carried out COVID-19 tests on 726,747 people since Jan. 3, including 15,263 from a day earlier.

The number of people undergoing tests has spiked recently due to cases linked to nightspots in Itaewon. More than 35,000 people have been tested over the Itaewon infection cluster, according to the KCDC.

On May 6, the country switched to an "everyday life quarantine" and the normalization of public facilities and other business establishments, under the condition they follow basic sanitation measures.

However, due to the recent surge in virus cases traced to the Itaewon area, the country has decided to push back the reopening of schools by one week.

The KCDC said schools will reopen as planned Wednesday, allowing students to begin physically attending classes.

A sign shows the Seoul Central District Court is temporarily closed on May 15, 2020, after one of its employees tested positive for COVID-19. (Yonhap)

khj@yna.co.kr
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