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(LEAD) S. Korea on alert over imported virus cases coming from Iraq

All Headlines 14:55 July 16, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 5, 8)

SEJONG, July 16 (Yonhap) -- South Korean health authorities said Thursday they are keeping a close eye on workers returning from Iraq after a slew of them tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

South Korea reported 61 additional COVID-19 infections Thursday, with 47 of them being imported cases. Of the newly identified imported cases, 20 of them are South Korean construction workers who returned from Iraq, health authorities said.

"We are getting reports that cluster infections have occurred in the Middle East region, especially around construction sites in Iraq," Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health ministry official, told reporters. "We think our people working at Iraqi construction sites may have been exposed to the virus."

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), Iraq reported 81,757 cases of COVID-19, with the death toll reaching 3,345, as of Wednesday.

Health authorities said so far 34 South Korean construction workers from Iraq have tested positive for COVID-19, with 28 of them detected at quarantine checkpoints at the airport.

Yoon said the number of cases coming from Iraq could increase as more workers are set to return home.

He added the government will come up with measures to protect South Koreans working at construction sites in the Middle East.

Health authorities said they will also look into options of applying special quarantine procedures to workers from Iraq.

South Korea has been dealing with a rise of imported cases recently, with the daily rise of such cases staying double-digit numbers for 21 consecutive days.

The number of imported cases in South Korea has reached 1,966 as of Thursday, with the country's total caseload of COVID-19 standing at 13,612.

This photo taken on July 15, 2020, shows quarantine officials working at Incheon International Airport in Incheon, west of Seoul. (Yonhap)


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