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(5th LD) Club-linked virus cases still on rise ahead of further school reopening

National 23:08 May 26, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with new info in paras 8-9)

SEOUL, May 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's virus fight appears to be dragging on as sporadic outbreaks tied to an infection cluster in Seoul's nightlife district of Itaewon continued ahead of another phase of school reopening.

The 19 new cases, with 16 being local infections, raised South Korea's total coronavirus caseload to 11,225, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

The daily increase in new virus cases stayed below 20 for the second day after hovering around the threshold for three days.

Health workers speak to citizens waiting in line for virus tests at a public medical center in Gangseo Ward, western Seoul, on May 26, 2020, one day after a kindergarten student in the district tested postive for the novel coronavirus. (Yonhap)

Itaewon has emerged as a new hotbed for the spread of COVID-19 after a 29-year-old man tested positive for the virus on May 6 following his visits to multiple clubs and bars in Itaewon.

As of noon, 255 cases have been linked to Itaewon clubs, up 18 from a day earlier. Nearly half of those cases were identified in Seoul.

One recent case involved seven stages of transmission traced to a patient in Incheon, who lied about visiting Itaewon and infected students he taught at a cram school. More than 83,000 have been tested over the Itaewon outbreak.

The KCDC said it is also keeping a close eye on cases coming from bible study meetings in some cities, as well as group infections at a logistics center in Bucheon, west of Seoul.

Nine new cases linked to the Bucheon logistics center owned by Coupang, the country's leading e-commerce operator, were confirmed Tuesday, the authorities said, raising the total number of patients related to the potential infection cluster to 14.

The center's first case, confirmed Saturday, is believed to be one of dozens of chain transmissions traced to the instructor in Incheon. The company closed the facility Monday. Health authorities have started virus tests on about 3,060 people linked to the logistics center.

The country reported two more additional virus fatalities, raising the death toll to 269.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 10,275, up 49 from the previous day, according to the KCDC, with 681 patients currently under treatment.

People wearing masks board a bus in Seoul on May 26, 2020. Health authorities said all bus, taxi and airplane passengers are required to wear masks to prevent COVID-19 infection. (Yonhap)

Despite the sporadic transmissions detected nationwide in connection with the Itaewon cluster, health authorities said they are not considering rolling back stricter social distancing as the country's quarantine capabilities remain sufficient to handle the recent virus situation.

But health authorities are staying vigilant over the further reopening of schools as an estimated 2.37 million students are to return to classes Wednesday.

Last week, about 440,000 high school seniors returned to school after more than two months of delay due to the pandemic.

Some schools in Gangseo Ward, western Seoul, decided to push back their reopening by one week after a kindergarten student tested positive for the virus.

"As students are to meet their classmates after a long time, there is a possibility that they may forget about personal hygiene rules," said Son Young-rae, a spokesperson for the country's health ministry.

To prevent the further spread of the virus, the government has required all people to wear masks when using buses and taxis. Those who do not wear masks may not be allowed to board buses and taxis.

Mandatory mask use will also be applied to air passengers starting Wednesday, regardless of their flights.

Some municipal governments have issued an administrative order banning gatherings at entertainment establishments with high infection risks, such as clubs and bars, as recent cases stemmed from those facilities.

Health authorities said as of 6 p.m. Monday, 33,468 people are in self-isolation, with most of them being those who arrived from overseas. Overseas arrivals are required to self quarantine for 14 days here.

South Korea has been ordering violators of self-isolation rules to wear electronic wristbands to track their movements. Currently 17 people are wearing the device, according to the health ministry.

The KCDC said two suspected cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a mysterious pediatric inflammatory illness possibly linked to COVID-19, have been reported in the country.

The suspected cases, involving one child aged under 10, came one day after health authorities decided to establish a system to detect and analyze MIS-C, after such a disease was reported overseas.

The KCDC said the country will decide whether it should grant special importation of Remdesivir, an Ebola treatment that has emerged as a new hope in treatment of the new coronavirus, following a central clinical committee meeting Thursday.

kdon@yna.co.kr
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