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(4th LD) Sporadic cluster infections push new virus cases above 60 for 3rd day

All News 20:28 July 05, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with details from press briefing in paras 9-12, 23-25; ADDS photo)
By Kang Yoon-seung

SEOUL, July 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily new virus cases stayed above 60 for the third consecutive day Sunday as infections outside the Seoul metropolitan area continued to swell, including in the southwestern city of Gwangju.

The country added 61 cases, including 43 local infections, raising the total caseload to 13,091, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

South Korea added 63 new cases on both Friday and Saturday.

It marked the first time since April for the country to post more than 60 new COVID-19 patients for three consecutive days.

Of the locally transmitted infections, 15 cases were newly identified in Gwangju, 330 kilometers southwest of Seoul. The city has seen coronavirus cases rise sharply due mainly to cluster infections linked to a Buddhist temple and a church.

As of Sunday, 80 cases have been tied to Gwangneuk Temple, up 13 from a day earlier. The figure includes cases from Ilgok JungAng Church, also based in the city, as the two clusters were found to have connections.

Streets of Gwangju, located 330 kilometers south of Seoul, remain empty on July 5, 2020, as people refrained from going outside due to the city's uptick in new coronavirus cases. (Yonhap)

The government of South Jeolla Province, which surrounds Gwangju, said it will raise the region's anti-virus alert level to the "social distancing level 2" from the current "distancing in daily life" Monday.

The upgrade calls for tougher virus preventive measures, including banning gatherings of 50 or more people indoors or 100 or more people outdoors, and making it mandatory to wear masks when using public transportation.

All kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools in Gwangju's Buk ward, where an elementary school student has tested positive, will also close for a week, with the exception of high school seniors who are preparing for the year-end college entrance exam.

Health authorities defined the current situation as "severe" in the current social distancing stage, the lowest in a three-tier system.

"Infections have been reported at small-scale facilities and meetings, which are hard for health authorities to manage, while the speed of infections is slightly fast in the Honam region," Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said in a press briefing, mentioning the South and North Jeolla Provinces.

Park, however, said it is not yet time to heighten the social distancing level on a national level.

South Korea, which relaxed nationwide strict social distancing in early May on the back of a flattened virus curve, decided last month to indefinitely apply toughened infection preventive measures in the greater Seoul area due to a continued rise in cluster infections.

The Seoul area added 14 new cases, with its surrounding Gyeonggi Province reporting four new infections.

Cases linked to an apartment building in Uijeongbu, north of Seoul, reached 28 on Sunday, up three from a day earlier.

Those traced to a major church in Seoul's southwestern ward of Gwanak reached 35, up one from a day earlier.

Daejeon, a central city 164 kilometers south of Seoul, also reported eight more infections.

Last week, two elementary students in Daejeon tested positive after coming in contact with a peer, which could be the first case of the virus being transmitted at a school in South Korea.

One of the hospitals in the central city had a total of nine patients, up three from the previous day.

Daegu, once the hotbed of the country's virus outbreak, added no new cases. The city, which accounts for more than half of the country's COVID-19 cases, recently suffered another uptick in the number of new patients due to group infections from an acting school.

Health authorities are vigilant as the latest spread of the virus could lead to a new wave of the pandemic. South Korea suffered its worst month in February, when the daily number of new infections even rose above 900 at one point.

Over the past two weeks, around 10 percent of the newly added infections had unknown infection routes.

Officials at the southeastern port city of Busan hold signs in English asking visitors to wear masks at the city's Haeundae beach on July 5, 2020. (Yonhap)

Authorities, however, appeared cautious toward views that the pace of new infections seems to be faster compared with February and March, when infections broke out in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province.

"Compared with the situation in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province in February and March, the current quarantine system is quite stable, and (we are) quickly tracking down patients through epidemiological studies," Park said.

"It may seem that the speed of infection has gotten faster, as we can now define patients immediately, including those who do not show symptoms," he added.

The country reported no additional deaths, with the death toll staying at 283. The fatality rate reached 2.16 percent.

The number of new imported cases reached 18, raising the total number of such cases to 1,666. South Korea has posted a double-digit number of imported cases for 10 consecutive days.

The total number of people released from quarantine after full recoveries stood at 11,832, up 21 from the previous day. This indicates some 90 percent of the COVID-19 patients here have been cured.

South Korea has carried out 1,326,055 COVID-19 tests since Jan. 3.

Students wait in line to receive new coronavirus tests at an elementary school located north of Seoul on July 5, 2020. (Yonhap)

colin@yna.co.kr
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