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(LEAD) New virus cases fall below 50; imported infections, those at churches persist

Welfare/Medicine 10:41 July 10, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS details throughout; CHANGES headline, photos)

SEOUL, July 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new daily virus cases fell below 50 on Friday, but imported cases and infections tied to churches continued despite enhanced anti-infection measures.

The country added 45 cases, including 22 local infections, raising the total caseload to 13,338, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

South Korea reported more than 60 new virus cases for three consecutive days through Sunday, before falling below 50 on Monday and Tuesday. The new daily cases rebounded to 63 on Wednesday and reached 50 the following day.

The country identified 23 more imported cases, posting double-digit numbers for more than two weeks. On Wednesday, the figure reached a three-month high of 33 cases.

Visitors pass through a disinfection gate set up at a beach in Sokcho, 213 kilometers east of Seoul, on July 10, 2020. (Yonhap)

Sporadic cluster infections across the nation continued to rise, mostly attributable to religious facilities where worshipers gather en masse in a closed environment.

Starting Friday, South Korea started prohibiting churches nationwide from organizing gatherings other than regular worship services. A QR code-based registration scheme, which has been imposed on entertainment facilities, such as clubs, will be applied at churches as well.

Of the new local infections, three cases were reported in the southwestern city of Gwangju, which has emerged as a new hotbed of the virus outbreak outside of the Seoul metropolitan area.

A total of 105 cases linked to a door-to-door business in the city were reported as of Thursday, up 10 from a day earlier. Twelve new virus cases traced to a cram school in the city have been reported as well.

The capital city of Seoul added seven cases, with the surrounding Gyeonggi Province seeing three more cases, the KCDC data showed.

Cases traced to a major Protestant church in Seoul's southwestern ward of Gwanak reached 39 on Thursday, up one from the previous day.

The capital city accounted for the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases as of Friday, outpacing North Gyeongsang Province for the first time.

Daegu, which added no new cases on the day, still stands at the hardest-hit city by accounting for more than half of the accumulated infections, due mainly to thousands of cases traced to a minor religious sect.

The faces of the mascots of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics are covered with protective masks to promote the country's social distancing drive near a beach in Sokcho, 213 kilometers east of Seoul, on July 10, 2020. (Yonhap)

The central city of Daejeon added seven more infections.

In early May, South Korea eased social distancing, but cluster infections from clubs, churches, and door-to-door sales businesses in the greater Seoul area have forced health authorities to take a step back and reinforce distancing rules in the region.

The eased social-distancing scheme hinges on the condition that the daily new infections stay at 50 or below, although small ups and downs may be tolerated. Accordingly, South Korea will seriously need to review enhancing distancing rules nationwide should the daily figures further escalate.

On Thursday, health authorities said studies showed that the country was far from developing herd immunity, which means citizens should strictly follow sanitary rules until COVID-19 vaccines become available.

Of the newly added imported cases, four of them were detected at checkpoints at airports and ports.

The accumulated number of imported cases reached 1,791, accounting for roughly 13 percent of all COVID-19 infections here.

The country reported one more death, raising the death toll to 288. The fatality rate was 2.16 percent.

The rate, however, was over 25 percent for patients aged 80 and above.

The total number of people released from quarantine after full recoveries stood at 12,065, up 46 from the previous day.

South Korea has carried out 1,384,890 COVID-19 tests since Jan. 3.

colin@yna.co.kr
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