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(5th LD) S. Korea's new virus cases hover around 20 for 3rd day, Itaewon cluster keeps growing

All News 21:10 May 24, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more details in paras 10-13; RESTRUCTURES; TRIMS)

SEOUL, May 24 (Yonhap) -- South Korea added 25 new coronavirus cases Sunday, marking the third consecutive day the number has been around 20, as the country steps up efforts to bring the latest infections tied to Seoul's nightlife district of Itaewon under control.

The 25 new cases, with eight coming from overseas and 17 local infections, raised the country's total caseload to 11,190. The death toll remained unchanged at 266, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said in a statement.

The country's new cases stood at 20 on Friday and 23 on Saturday.

South Korea has successfully flattened the virus curve with massive and swift testing since the country's first confirmed case was reported on Jan. 20, but sporadic cluster infections continue to complicate the quarantine efforts.

Cases tied to clubs in Itaewon have not evolved into explosive infections but have continued to increase steadily. The Itaewon-linked cases reached a total of 225 as of noon Sunday, up six from the previous day.

Of the total cases, 129 were infected after coming into contact with those diagnosed with COVID-19, the KCDC said.

The health authorities remained alert ahead of another phase of school reopening this week following the return of high school seniors last week after a nearly three-month suspension.

The health authorities said the next two weeks are significant in determining whether the coronavirus outbreak spreads further or slows down, calling for citizens to stay vigilant and abide by eased social distancing guidelines.

Later in the day, the government announced a plan to require entertainment establishments like clubs and bars with high infection risks to keep quick response (QR) code-based customer logs starting next month, as part of efforts to reduce errors and delays in contact-tracing caused by people giving false personal information.

Seoul city officials put a notice of business suspension on the entrance of a "coin noraebang," a coin-operated karaoke room, in Seoul on May 22, 2020. (Yonhap)

Despite the sporadic transmissions detected nationwide in connection with the Itaewon cluster, the government is not considering reverting to stricter social distancing or toughening the current quarantine rules, Health Minister Park Neung-hoo told a press briefing.

He said quarantine capabilities remain sufficient enough to handle the control and treatment of the virus.

"The daily average of infected patients in the past two weeks came to 23.2 people, an increase from 8.7 tallied for the two weeks before that, but still, we maintain an average of below 50, a level that can be managed," he said.

But he stressed the need for everyone, with or without symptoms, who had visited the clubs and other places exposed to infections to come forward and get tested, so as to help prevent community spread.

Itaewon emerged as the latest hotbed for infections after a 29-year-old man tested positive for COVID-19 on May 6 following visits to clubs and bars in the district. The country has continued to report secondary to quintic transmissions linked to the Itaewon outbreak in recent weeks.

To avoid a second wave of infections, the health authorities have been carrying out tens of thousands of tests on those who visited affected clubs between April 24 and May 6.

Of the 25 new cases, six each were reported in Seoul, the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and North Gyeongsang Province, with two infections reported in Incheon, just west of Seoul, and one in Gangwon Province. Four cases were caught during the quarantine process at airports, it said.

The accumulated number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 10,213, up 19 from a day earlier, with 711 people under quarantine, the statement said.

The pandemic, which surfaced in China late last year, has killed more than 340,000 people worldwide and infected more than 5.3 million in just a few months, a tally from Johns Hopkins University showed.

This photo, taken on May 24, 2020, shows the Eunhye church, which is temporarily closed after its preacher and six people who came in contact with the preacher were diagnosed with the new coronavirus. (Yonhap)


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