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(LEAD) New virus infections bounce back on imported cases, community spread still at large

National 11:00 June 23, 2020

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

SEOUL, June 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new virus cases bounced back Tuesday due mainly to a surge in imported cases, with most traced to sailors on a Russia-flagged ship docked in the southeastern city of Busan. The spread of the virus in the Seoul metropolitan area and outside the capital continued.

The country added 46 cases, including 16 local infections, raising the total caseload to 12,484, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

The tally rebounded from 17 new cases reported Monday, the lowest in almost a month.

The country reported 30 additional imported cases, 16 of which were tied to the Russia-flagged refrigerator vessel with 21 crew. The ship that departed from Russia's Vladivostok is currently at a port in Busan.

This photo, taken on June 23, 2020, shows a Russia-flagged ship docked at a port in South Korea's southeastern city of Busan, where at least 16 cases of the new coronavirus were reported. (Yonhap)

The crewmembers took virus tests a day earlier, after the captain who got off the ship in Russia a week ago tested positive. Around 160 port workers who came in contact with the infected sailors are in isolation.

Health authorities are on high alert, as imported cases are likely to further rise.

In an effort to stem a rise in imported cases, South Korea began to suspend visa issuance and non-scheduled flights to restrict entry from Pakistan and Bangladesh on Tuesday, as COVID-19 cases imported from the two nations have recently spiked.

The number of virus cases coming in from overseas has been on a steady rise, reaching 31 on Saturday and 13 on May 12. As of Monday, the country identified a total of 1,471 imported cases since its first outbreak in late January.

It marked the first time in nearly 40 days that the number of imported cases surpassed that of local infections.

Imported cases, once the main culprit for virus cases here, fell to a single-digit figure early this month after the country strengthened quarantine measures on all international arrivals in April.

But such cases have bounced back to double-digit numbers since mid-June.

A health worker explains quarantine measures to an international arrival at Incheon International Airport, South Korea's main gateway west of Seoul, on June 22, 2020. (Yonhap)

Still, community spread remains the main challenge for health authorities as cluster infections in the greater Seoul area and outside the capital continued to grow.

Of the locally transmitted cases, 11 were reported in the densely populated Seoul and nearby metropolitan areas. four cases were reported in Daejeon, 164 kilometers south of Seoul.

Health authorities has said the Seoul metropolitan area is already in the second wave of the new coronavirus outbreak, warning that the country should brace for a protracted virus fight. The first wave of the virus outbreak gripped the country between February and March.

The Seoul metropolitan area accounted for most of the newly added cases this month. The country has been gripped by multiple and sporadic cluster infections since it relaxed strict social distancing on May 6 on the back of the flattened virus curve.

But health authorities warned that they could consider imposing tougher infection preventive measures, currently in place in the Seoul metropolitan area, across the country amid a continued rise in cluster infections.

The country, meanwhile, reported one additional death, bringing the total death toll to 281. The fatality rate was 2.25 percent.

The total number of people released from quarantine after full recoveries stood at 10,908, up 27 from the previous day.

The country has carried out 1,196,012 tests since Jan. 3.

Citizens wait to take tests for the new coronavirus at a screening center in the southwestern city of Gwangju on June 22, 2020. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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