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(4th LD) New virus cases dip below 40, greater Seoul still at risk from cluster infections

All News 16:44 June 08, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS details in paras 7-11; CHANGES photos; TRIMS throughout)

SEOUL, June 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's number of new virus cases slowed Monday, after topping 50 for two consecutive days, but concerns are running high over a second wave of the pandemic in greater Seoul due to a continued increase in sporadic cluster infections.

The country added 38 new cases, including 33 locally transmitted cases, raising its total caseload to 11,814, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). It marked a decrease from 57 cases announced a day earlier and 51 on Saturday.

All of the locally transmitted cases were reported from the Seoul metropolitan area.

South Korea has been grappling with a string of group infections linked to religious gatherings, nightclubs and a distribution center in the metropolitan area since relaxing its social distancing scheme on May 6.

Visitors wait to receive new coronavirus tests at a makeshift clinic in southern Seoul on June 8, 2020. (Yonhap)

More recently, new mass infections tied to a door-to-door business entity, along with sports activity-connected cluster infections, have emerged as a new source of concerns over further community spread here over the weekend.

As of Monday, cases traced to e-commerce giant Coupang's warehouse in Bucheon, west of Seoul, reached 138, up five from a day earlier. Those linked to small churches and religious sessions in Incheon and Gyeonggi Province also increased by four to 86.

South Korea has been detecting more COVID-19 cases from a door-to-door business establishment, which reached 52 on Monday.

According to health authorities, eight additional cases from a shelter for Korean-Chinese people in western Seoul have been confirmed to be linked to infections from the business.

The number was not included in the official tally.

Health authorities said more related cases may come as they plan to conduct virus tests on members of the shelter as well.

Cases linked to a table tennis gym in western Seoul also reached 41. The number of cases linked to the nightlife district of Itaewon came to 274 as of Monday.

Asymptomatic "silent" virus spreaders are also one of the grave concerns here. The KCDC estimates around 25-35 percent of patients here tested positive for the coronavirus despite showing no related symptoms.

Students receive their lunch while wearing protective masks at an elementary school in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul, on June 8, 2020. (Yonhap)

The string of mass infections in closed settings came as more South Korean pupils returned to classes in the final phase of the country's school reopening plan.

The country completed its phased reopenings of schools Monday, giving the go-ahead for all students to return to their classrooms.

Nearly 520 of the country's 20,900 schools, however, have delayed their reopenings due to regional infections. Most of such schools were from greater Seoul.

The country has been slowly reopening kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools since May 20. A new semester normally starts in March.

Schools will continue to carry out intense sanitary measures, including separated lunches and a mix of online and offline classes.

A high schooler also tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday. Lotte World, an amusement park located in southern Seoul, was immediately shut down a day earlier as the student went there Friday. The patient's school will be shuttered before all students and teachers are tested.

Some 800 people are currently receiving COVID-19 tests in connection to the case. No secondary infections, however, have been reported so far.

Health authorities said there will likely not be a mass infection from the amusement park as the patient wore a protective mask.

The latest spike in the daily new cases are putting the country's relaxed social distancing scheme to the test.

The country already has decided to beef up quarantine measures in the Seoul metropolitan area, shutting down public facilities and regulating entertainment establishments until Sunday. The measure can be extended beyond the initial deadline should the new cases not plateau.

Health authorities again urged citizens to refrain from avoiding gatherings. The movement of residents in the metropolitan area did not change much despite the tightened measures. The number of passengers on buses and subway lines of the region only edged down 1.3 percent on May 30-31 compared with a week ago, and the transactions via credit cards decreased by only 1.7 percent over the period, according to the KCDC.

"We urge residents of the metropolitan area to cancel or delay unnecessary gatherings," Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health official, said in a daily briefing, reiterating this week will become a critical juncture for the country's battle against the pandemic.

A medical worker cools her head with an ice pack at a makeshift clinic in northern Seoul on June 8, 2020. (Yonhap)

South Korea was on the verge of fully flattening the increase in the number of COVID-19 patients earlier by adding just two cases on May 6. After going through ups and downs, it reached 79 on May 28, the highest of the month.

The death toll stayed flat at 273 for the fifth consecutive day.

The fatality rate came to 2.31 percent, but the figure reached nearly 26 percent for those aged 80 and above.

The accumulated number of imported cases reached 1,297, up five from a day earlier.

The number of people released from quarantine after fully recovering totaled 10,563, up 11 from the previous day. Nearly 90 percent of the country's COVID-19 patients have recovered so far.

Health authorities plan to secure enough test kits to last for at least two weeks, while securing an additional 350,000 kits to brace for a sudden hike in demand.

The country's daily supply of COVID-19 test kits is currently estimated at 34,000 units, which is sufficient to meet the daily average demand of 28,000 units posted over May 25-31.


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