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(LEAD) Virus fight at inflection point over cluster infections in greater Seoul

All News 11:48 June 09, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details throughout; CHANGES photos)

SEOUL, June 9 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is ratcheting up efforts to stem the further spread of the new coronavirus in the capital region amid concerns over a potential hike in new cases traced to cluster infections.

The country added 38 new cases, including 35 local infections on Tuesday, raising the total caseload to 11,852, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). It marked daily new cases of below 40 for the second straight day, and a slight decrease from 57 cases a day earlier and 51 on Saturday.

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

Virus cases in the capital area accounted for nearly 97 percent of the 313 locally transmitted infections reported since June 1, according to the KCDC. In Seoul alone, total virus cases surpassed the 1,000 mark for the first time.

This photo, taken on June 9, 2020, shows a sign about school closure on the front gate of an elementary school in Incheon, west of Seoul, as a virus case was reported. (Yonhap)

South Korea has been wrestling with multiple, sporadic cluster infections tied to religious gatherings, nightclubs and a logistics center in Seoul and the surrounding metropolitan area after the country relaxed its social distancing scheme on May 6.

Infections traced to a warehouse run by e-commerce leader Coupang in Bucheon, just west of Seoul, reached 138 as of noon Monday. Those linked to small churches and religious sessions in the densely populated metropolitan area reached 86.

Virus cases linked to a door-to-door business retailer and sports-related facilities have emerged as new infection clusters, spawning concerns over further community spread in the metropolitan area.

COVID-19 cases tied to a door-to-door business establishment reached 52 as of noon Monday. Those linked to a table tennis gym in southwestern Seoul came in at 41.

According to health authorities, at least nine cases have been traced to a shelter for Korean-Chinese people in western Seoul.

A health worker prepares to conduct new coronavirus tests on June 8, 2020, at a makeshift test site set up at a shelter for Korean-Chinese people in western Seoul. (Yonhap)

Health officials remain on high alert over yet another infection cluster in the capital area, as such facilities for foreign migrants appear to be a blind spot in quarantine efforts.

Singapore, once touted as a role model in coping with the pandemic, saw a sharp rise in virus cases tied to lodging facilities for foreign migrants.

At least six cases have been also traced to a day care center for senior citizens in Gwangmyeong, just south of Seoul.

"If we fail to break the chain of cluster infections at an early date, it is worrisome that mass infections may pop up in the densely populated area," Sohn Young-rae, a senior health official, said in a briefing.

The string of cluster infections in Seoul and nearby areas came as the country completed its phased reopening of schools Monday, giving the go-ahead for students to return to their classrooms.

But concerns about cluster infections at schools linger, as hundreds of schools in Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province have delayed their reopening due to virus cases.

This photo, provided by an office of Seoul's Seongdong Ward on June 8, 2020, shows ward officials inspecting a table tennis facility to stem the spread of the new coronavirus. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The country's eased social distancing scheme is in peril in the face of a steady rise in new cases.

South Korea has decided to beef up quarantine measures in the Seoul metropolitan area, shutting down public facilities and regulating entertainment establishments until June 14.

The country, meanwhile, added three imported cases and reported one additional death, raising the total death toll to 274. The fatality rate was 2.31 percent.

The total number of people released from quarantine after full recoveries stood at 10,589, up 26 from the previous day.

The country has carried out 1,035,997 tests since Jan. 3.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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