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(4th LD) Virus fight still dogged by cluster infections ahead of further school reopenings

National 15:44 June 05, 2020

(ATTN: RECAST lead; ADDS details in paras 9-10)

SEOUL, June 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea continued to report more virus cases linked to religious gatherings, nightclubs and a logistics center in greater Seoul on Friday ahead of further school reopenings next week. Health authorities again urged citizens to stay away from gatherings over the weekend.

The country added 39 more cases of the new coronavirus, including 34 local infections, raising the total caseload to 11,668, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). The daily COVID-19 infections remained flat compared to the previous day.

All but three of the newly identified domestic transmissions Friday were reported from Seoul and adjacent areas.

South Korea has been grappling with a series of group infections after shifting to a relaxed social-distancing scheme since May 6.

A medical worker gets her face cooled with a facial mist at a makeshift clinic in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul, on June 5, 2020. (Yonhap)

Over the past two weeks, cluster infections accounted for 73 percent of new virus cases, and most mass infections were reported in the greater Seoul area, the KCDC said.

The number of cases tied to 30 small churches in Incheon, west of Seoul, and Gyeonggi Province that surrounds the capital city reached 76, up 10 from a day earlier, according to the KCDC. The first related case was reported Sunday.

Of the cases reported from the churches, more than half were secondary transmissions.

The number of infections from clubgoers in the nightlife district of Itaewon reached more than 270. Another 124 cases were linked to a distribution center run by e-commerce leader Coupang as of Friday, according to the KCDC.

The KCDC said a total of 29 virus cases linked to a door-to-door business establishment in southern Seoul have been reported since Tuesday, emerging as yet another infection cluster in the country. Most of the patients were aged 60 and above, with the oldest person aged 86.

Health authorities say there may be more related cases, adding that around 200 people, including company workers, were undergoing virus tests.

"The new coronavirus is spreading in greater Seoul through religious meetings, PC cafes, and cram schools. Such infections can lead to another wave of pandemic," KCDC Deputy Director Kwon Joon-wook said in a briefing, urging people to avoid gatherings over the weekend.

Asymptomatic virus spreaders are also another stumbling block in the country's virus fight. The KCDC estimates around 25-35 percent of patients here tested positive for the coronavirus despite showing no related symptoms.

The country recently rolled out the third phase of its plan to reopen schools, with students in more selected grades returning to their classrooms this week. More students are set to attend in-person classes next week.

(4th LD) Virus fight still dogged by cluster infections ahead of further school reopenings - 2

South Korea is still set to carry out its plan to have all students return to schools next week while taking precautionary measures, including reduced class time and a mix of online and offline classes.

On Friday, 514 kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools remained shut down, or 2.5 percent of the country's total number of schools. Nearly all were based in Seoul and its surrounding areas.

The upcoming week will be a crucial juncture in containing further spread.

Earlier, health authorities decided to reinforce social distancing guidelines for the metropolitan area, shuttering public facilities again and ordering entertainment establishments to refrain from opening until June 14.

If the figures from the metropolitan area rise, South Korea will have to consider a return to strict social distancing.

Health authorities said they are currently discussing whether to further beef up quarantine measures in greater Seoul, with related decisions set to be made soon.

Students stage a protest against offline exams at Seoul National University in southern Seoul on June 5, 2020. (Yonhap)

The country reported no new deaths, keeping the death toll at 273.

The fatality rate stood at 2.34 percent. The rate was lower than 1 percent for those aged 59 and below, although it shot up as high as 26.4 percent for patients older than 79.

The accumulated number of imported cases reached 1,280, up five from a day earlier.

The total number of people released from quarantine after full recoveries stood at 10,506, moving up seven from the previous day. Around 90 percent of local COVID-19 patients have been cured.

South Korea has been carrying out tests on 990,960 people since Jan. 3, including 17,102 from a day earlier.

The country began the supply of "saliva droplet prevention" masks. While the thinner masks are known to prevent less pollutants than thicker and more durable ones, demand has been growing as warmer weather makes it uncomfortable for people to wear them.

colin@yna.co.kr
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