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(3rd LD) More cluster infections looming, virus outbreaks tipped to stretch into summer

All News 15:39 June 17, 2020

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; ADDS info & RESTRUCTURES throughout; CHANGES photos)

SEOUL, June 17 (Yonhap) -- Despite strenuous efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, South Korea is bracing for yet more cluster infections in the greater Seoul and other areas, and health authorities warned Wednesday that the spread of COVID-19 may stretch even into the summer.

The country reported 43 new cases, including 31 local infections, raising the total caseload to 12,198, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Cluster infections continued to linger in greater Seoul, and imported cases spiked. More mass infections in the Seoul metropolitan area and outside the capital city were also reported.

Of the locally transmitted cases, 25 were reported in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province that surrounds the capital, home to half of the country's population of 50 million.

The number of new imported cases came to 12, raising the total number of such infections to 1,371. It marked the fourth time this month for such cases to rise by a two-digit number.

Health workers prepare for duty at a makeshift clinic in Daejeon, 164 kilometers south of Seoul, on June 17, 2020. (Yonhap)

Health workers prepare for duty at a makeshift clinic in Daejeon, 164 kilometers south of Seoul, on June 17, 2020. (Yonhap)

Five were also reported from Daejeon, 164 kilometers south of Seoul. A door-to-door operator in the central city reported 11 COVID-19 patients so far.

Health authorities are on high alert as it was the first time for South Korea in more than a month to report a group infection case outside the greater Seoul area.

Virus cases connected to a day care center for seniors in northeastern Seoul rose by 12 to reach 34. Most of the patients were aged 60 and above.

Three workers at a subway station in central Seoul also tested positive for COVID-19, although they were not included in the official daily tally.

The Seoul metropolitan area has accounted for most of the newly added virus cases this month, as it has been saddled with cluster infections tied to religious gatherings and a door-to-door sales firm.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is showing no signs of a slowdown though the summer is around the corner. Rather, the virus is reemerging in different corners of the world," KCDC Director Jeong Eun-kyeong said during a daily briefing.

"The pandemic is anticipated to continue to linger regardless of changes in temperature, before vaccines or treatments are available," Jeong added.

Health authorities said the metropolitan area has reported daily new cases of over 30 every day over the past month.

As of noon on Wednesday, cases traced to a door-to-door business in western Seoul also reached 176, up four from the previous day.

South Korea has inspected around 8,000 multilevel marketing and door-to-door sales companies through Tuesday to prevent similar cases across the country, health authorities said.

Cases linked to a sports facility in western Seoul advanced by one to 67.

Visitors keep a safe distance while standing in line at a job fair in Yongin, south of Seoul, on June 17, 2020, amid the new coronavirus pandemic. (Yonhap)

Visitors keep a safe distance while standing in line at a job fair in Yongin, south of Seoul, on June 17, 2020, amid the new coronavirus pandemic. (Yonhap)

South Korea eased strict social distancing in early May on the back of the flattened virus curve, but cluster infections traced to a nightlife district in Seoul soon emerged.

A continued rise in cluster infections forced health authorities to indefinitely extend toughened infection preventive measures in greater Seoul this week following a two-week implementation.

Health authorities warned that the new scheme could be applied across the country if the daily number of new cases does not sharply flatten down the road.

South Korea is also closely monitoring asymptomatic virus spreaders, who make up 10 percent of newly identified cases this month.

Health authorities added the country currently maintains enough hospital beds to accommodate COVID-19 patients and is preparing for a potential second wave of the pandemic in the metropolitan area.

"We are making preparations under a scenario that greater Seoul suffers massive outbreaks as observed earlier in Daegu and the surrounding North Gyeongsang Province," Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health official, said in a daily briefing. "We will stockpile enough protective suits and test kits as well."

The country reported one more virus-related death, raising the total death toll to 279. The fatality rate came to 2.29 percent.

South Korea has been carrying out 1,132,823 tests since Jan. 3.

The total number of people released from quarantine after full recoveries stood at 10,774, up 14 from the previous day. Around 88 percent of South Korean COVID-19 patients have been cured.

colin@yna.co.kr
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