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(LEAD) New virus cases below 50 for 2nd day, religious gathering-tied infections still on rise

National 11:50 June 30, 2020

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

SEOUL, June 30 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new virus cases were below 50 for the second straight day Tuesday, but cases traced to religious gatherings continued in addition to a rise in imported cases.

The country added 43 cases, including 23 local infections, raising the total caseload to 12,800, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

The tally compared with 42 new cases of COVID-19 reported Monday and 62 additional cases identified Sunday.

The country's health authorities remain anxious about a potential new wave of virus outbreaks in the summer amid sustained rises in local infections and cases coming in from overseas.

Citizens wait to receive new coronavirus tests at a screening center in Gwangju, 329 kilometers south of Seoul, on June 30, 2020, amid concerns about further community spread. (Yonhap)

Of the locally transmitted cases, 13 cases were reported in the densely populated Seoul and the surrounding area.

The virus is spreading fast beyond the greater Seoul area, spawning concerns over a further virus spread into other parts of the country.

Five cases were reported in the central city of Daejeon and three in Gwangju, 329 kilometers south of Seoul, the KCDC said. One case each was reported in the eastern Gangwon Province and the North Chungcheong Province that sits in the country's central region.

Health authorities voiced concerns that virus transmissions traced to small gatherings have continued to become a drag on their efforts to contain the virus spread.

"Stronger restrictive measures will be in place if COVID-19 continues to spread through small gatherings," Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health official, told reporters without elaborating.

But it is not the time for the country to consider raising the degree of social distancing to Level 2 as the current virus situation is manageable with the medical system, Yoon said.

The KCDC earlier said the country is currently in the first of a three-level social distancing scheme as the number of daily new virus cases, mostly below 50, is manageable with its virus response capability.

Quarantine officials disinfect a classroom at an elementary school in Daejeon, 164 kilometers south of Seoul, on June 30, 2020, as one of its students was infected with the new coronavirus. (Yonhap)

Cluster infections tied to churches in the greater Seoul area have emerged as the bugbear in the country's virus fight.

Cases traced to a major church in Seoul's southwestern ward of Gwanak reached 28 as of noon Monday. Those tied to a church in Anyang, south of Seoul, reached 22.

At least 12 cases linked to a Buddhist temple in Gwangju were reported.

Health authorities are juggling the idea of adopting "effective" measures to stem the spread of the virus in connection to churches and other religious facilities.

South Korea has been gripped by rises in sporadic cluster infections in the greater Seoul area since it relaxed strict social distancing on May 6 on the back of the flattened virus curve.

Health officials warned that they may consider expanding tougher infection preventive measures -- currently in place only in the Seoul metropolitan area -- across the country if the virus situations get worse.

Health authorities urged citizens Monday to avoid gatherings and proposed staggered vacations during the summer season to contain the virus.

The country, meanwhile, reported 20 additional imported cases, raising the total such cases to 1,582.

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

Citizens wearing masks walk to have lunch near City Hall in central Seoul on June 29, 2020. (Yonhap)

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

South Korea, meanwhile, reported no additional deaths, bringing the death toll to 282. The fatality rate was 2.2 percent.

The total number of people released from quarantine after full recoveries stood at 11,537, up 108 from the previous day.

The country has carried out 1,273,766 tests since Jan. 3.


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