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(3rd LD) Logistics center-linked virus cases spike, stoking concern over further domestic spread

Industry 22:39 May 27, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS latest info, more details in paras 2, 4-5, 10-15)

SEOUL, May 27 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Wednesday reported a continued rise in new coronavirus cases linked to a logistics center in a city west of Seoul, putting health authorities on alert over further community spread.

At least 63 virus cases linked to the logistics center in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province, were confirmed as of 3 p.m., according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) and local governments.

The first related case, confirmed last week, is believed to be linked to a cram school instructor in nearby Incheon, who contracted the virus after a visit to Seoul's nightlife area of Itaewon.

Of the confirmed cases, 30 have been reported in Incheon, west of Seoul, with 15 cases reported in Seoul and 18 in Gyeonggi Province that surrounds the capital.

Infections related to the Bucheon center are feared to grow further as health authorities are testing around 4,000 people, including 3,600 workers at the facility. Coupang shut down the warehouse on Monday.

Seoul and its surrounding areas are home to roughly half of South Korea's population of more than 50 million.

This photo, taken on May 26, 2020, shows a logistics center of Coupang, the country's leading e-commerce operator, in Bucheon, west of Seoul, where a large number of COVID-19 cases were reported. (Yonhap)

Health authorities said they are conducting an epidemiological study into the cases, adding that workers at the facility operated by e-commerce leader Coupang did not appear to properly comply with quarantine measures.

"If quarantine measures are not implemented at workplaces, there could be the dreadful result of mass infections," Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said in a briefing.

The KCDC said it is also looking into the possibility that the logistics center-tied cases could have started through a route that is not connected to the Itaewon outbreak.

Sparking further concerns, one of the Coupang-related virus patients was found to be a worker at a large-scale call center in Bucheon.

According to the city government, the regular worker at the call center worked part time at the Coupang warehouse over the past weekend. After showing symptoms on Tuesday while working at the call center, he underwent a test and was confirmed to have contracted the virus.

Those who shared the office have been in isolation and are undergoing virus tests, the municipal government said. The call center is known to be home to around 1,600 workers.

Following the spread of the virus in the region, the Incheon education authorities decided to suspend 243 schools and kindergartens starting on Thursday through next Tuesday and turn to online classes.

The decision was made only one day after they resumed offline schooling after months of delay.

On Tuesday, the authorities already ordered all students of 251 schools in Bucheon, except for high school seniors, to wait further before going to school due to the Coupang case.

In another alarming case, Market Kurly, an online grocery delivery platform, said a temporary worker at its logistics center in eastern Seoul was infected with the virus.

The company said it has closed down the facility and will have some 300 workers who might have come in contact with the patient tested for the virus.

The KCDC said there is a low possibility that COVID-19 spread through the transportation of packages from the logistics center. But consumers' anxiety is growing as more Koreans have used online shopping during the pandemic.

South Korea has raised its guard against cluster infections amid a steady rise in Itaewon-linked infections. Health authorities remained skittish over the impacts of phased school reopenings on efforts to contain the virus.

The country reported 40 new cases, including 37 local infections, Wednesday, raising the total caseload to 11,265.

Health workers conduct a coronavirus test on a citizen at an outdoor testing center in Bucheon, west of Seoul on May 27, 2020, as the country reported a steady rise in logistics center-tied cases. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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