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(2nd D) S. Korea struggling to flatten virus curve again; cluster infections in focus

Retail/Tourism 11:43 May 29, 2020

(ATTN: RECASTS lead; UPDATES with more info throughout)

SEOUL, May 29 (Yonhap) -- South Korea reported more than 50 new virus cases for the second consecutive day Friday, all in the Seoul metropolitan area due to logistics center-tied cluster infections, threatening to derail health authorities' virus fight amid lingering concerns about community spread.

The newly added 58 COVID-19 cases, including 55 local infections, raised the total caseload to 11,402, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Most of the new infections were tied to a distribution facility run by e-commerce leader Coupang in Bucheon, west of Seoul.

Friday's newly identified cases came in below the nearly two-month high of 79 the previous day.

All the new infections were reported in greater Seoul area, putting renewed strains on the country's virus response capability to stem further virus spread.

At least 96 cases have been traced to the logistics center since the first patient was confirmed last week, according to the KCDC.

This photo, taken on May 27, 2020, shows a statement about the suspension of operations at a logistics center run by e-commerce leader Coupang in Bucheon, west of Seoul, over the new coronavirus outbreak. (Yonhap)

The logistics center cluster has brought to the fore the vulnerability of workplaces where many people work in a close environment without strictly complying with quarantine measures.

Coupang and Market Kurly, an online grocery delivery platform, also reported virus infections at their logistics centers in Goyang, north of Seoul and in eastern Seoul, respectively.

Alarmed by the spike in virus cases, health authorities opted to impose a tighter social distancing campaign in the densely populated metropolitan area -- Seoul and the surrounding areas, home to half of the country's population of more than 50 million -- over the next two weeks through June 14.

"The next two weeks will be a critical juncture in gauging whether the facility-tied outbreak will spread through Seoul and adjacent areas," Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said in a briefing.

South Korea's "everyday life quarantine" is in peril, as the outbreak of more than 50 new daily cases poses a threat to health authorities' plan to stick to the scheme.

The country switched to the scheme on May 6 to enable citizens to carry out social and economic activities under quarantine rules amid a slowdown in virus infections.

Citizens line up to receive tests for the new coronavirus at a clinic in Bucheon, west of Seoul, on May 28, 2020, as South Korea reported a sharp rise in cases tied to a logistics center operated by e-commerce leader Coupang in the city. (Yonhap)

A series of mass infections has jeopardized health authorities' drive over the past few weeks to bring the virus outbreak under control, with another cluster tied to nightclubs and bars in Seoul's nightlife neighborhood.

The total caseload linked to Itaewon clubs and bars reached 261 as of noon Thursday, according to the KCDC.

Despite concerns over further community spread, the education ministry said it will proceed with phased school reopening as planned.

South Korea reopened schools starting, with classes for high school seniors, on May 20 after monthslong closures due to the virus.

The country, meanwhile, added three imported cases and reported no additional deaths, with the total death toll staying at 269. The fatality rate was 2.36 percent.

The total number of people released from quarantine after full recoveries stood at 10,363, up 23 from the previous day.

The country has carried out 885,120 tests since Jan. 3.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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