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(LEAD) S. Korea's virus fight in trouble amid new cluster, daily infections at 2-month high

National 10:36 May 28, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS details throughout)

SEOUL, May 28 (Yonhap) -- South Korea reported the largest number of new coronavirus cases in nearly two months Thursday due to a cluster infection at a logistics center in a city just west of Seoul, with more related cases in the metropolitan area feared to come.

The country identified 79 new cases, including 68 local infections, raising the total coronavirus caseload to 11,344, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

It marked the largest daily increase in 53 days.

The increase was mostly attributable to mass infections at the distribution center in Bucheon. So far, a total of 69 cases have been traced to the facility operated by e-commerce operator Coupang.

Of the newly added infections, a total of 67 cases were reported in the metropolitan area, which includes the surrounding Gyeonggi Province.

Health authorities are worried that more related cases tied to the Coupang logistics center are likely to follow, as tests are currently being carried out on some 4,000 potential cases. So far, they have conducted virus tests on around 3,500 workers.

A worker disinfects a logistics center of Market Kurly, an online grocery delivery platform, in eastern Seoul on May 27, 2020. (Yonhap)

Initial investigations showed the logistics center did not follow basic guidelines, including maintaining distance between people at its cafeteria. Authorities are finding out whether the cases from the center and Itaewon are connected.

Health authorities are also looking into another Coupang distribution facility in Goyang, north of Seoul, where one employee has tested positive.

After successfully controlling community spread on strict social distancing and quick testing, the country has had to face a large scale cluster in the capital city. As of Wednesday noon, a total of 259 cases have been linked to Itaewon clubs and bars.

South Korea has seen ups and downs in the number of new cases, but infections mostly had been on a downhill since 81 on April 5. They even reached just two earlier this month, before the cluster infection from the nightlife district of Itaewon in Seoul emerged early this month.

The country, which reported its first COVID-19 case from a Chinese person on Jan. 20, once reported a daily increase of more than 900 cases in late February.

A teacher holds the hand of her student at an elementary school in the southern port city of Busan on May 27, 2020. (Yonhap)

Early this month, South Korea eased its social distancing guidelines, with students, including kindergartners, returning to school in phases.

On growing concerns over the spread of COVID-19, however, some 560 schools and kindergartens across the country postponed their reopening Wednesday.

South Korea reported no new deaths Thursday, with the virus-related death toll at 269. The fatality rate came to 2.37 percent.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries came to 10,340, up 45 from the previous day.

The number of imported cases, which used to be the top concern for South Korea in the battle against COVID-19, rose by 11. So far, the number of such cases has reached 1,232, with most of them being South Korean nationals.

The country carried out 15,790 additional COVID-19 tests Wednesday, raising the total number of people tested to 868,666.

colin@yna.co.kr
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