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(LEAD) Local virus cases at over 4-month high, strict social distancing under review

All News 11:49 August 14, 2020

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

SEOUL, Aug. 14 (Yonhap) -- The number of daily local virus cases in South Korea jumped to an over 4-month high on Friday as sporadic clusters in the greater Seoul area piled up, forcing health authorities to consider raising the level of social distancing to stem further spread.

The country's new daily coronavirus cases, including 85 locally transmitted ones, reached 103, raising the total caseload to 14,873, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

The number of newly identified local infections marks the most since 88 on March 31.

The daily tally nearly doubled from 56 new virus cases reported Thursday and also marked the highest level since July 25, when new virus cases reached 113.

Domestic infections have recently bounced back as cases mostly linked to sporadic clusters in Seoul and adjacent areas jumped.

A citizen takes a coronavirus test at a makeshift screening center set up in front of Seoul's Dongdaemun Market on Aug. 14, 2020. (Yonhap)

"We are facing a grave situation as cases tied to churches, door-to-door retailers, marketplaces and schools continued to increase in the greater Seoul areas," Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said in a briefing.

"It is very concerning that infections at facilities used by many people have been reported simultaneously," he added.

The KCDC warned that the greater Seoul area is teetering on the brink of another spike in virus cases and that the easing of social distancing guidance may be rolled back if the upward trend continues.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the government is considering strengthening the infection preventive measures in Seoul and neighboring areas by one notch to Level 2.

In June, South Korea adopted a three-tier social distancing scheme, under which the country is currently at Level 1 distancing measures. Level 2 could be applied if daily infections exceed 50 for 14 straight days but remain under 100.

Of the new locally transmitted cases, 31 were reported in Seoul and 38 in the surrounding Gyeonggi Province, the KCDC said. The southeastern city of Busan added five more cases of COVID-19.

Sporadic cluster infections have shown no signs of a let-up, with more than 30 cases linked to a church in Goyang, just north of Seoul.

Infections traced to a church in Yongin, south of Seoul, jumped to 24, up 12 cases from overnight, according to city government officials.

The Seoul metropolitan government ordered the shutdown of a church in northern Seoul after at least 13 cases were traced to the church. Health authorities said 1,897 people are subject to virus tests.

Cases tied to Lotteria, a fast-food franchise, in Seoul reached 11 as of Thursday at noon.

A quarantine official disinfects areas near the Dongwha shopping center in central Seoul on Aug. 14, 2020. (Yonhap)

Meanwhile, the daily number of cases coming in from overseas bounced back to a double-digit figure.

The number of daily imported cases recently far surpassed that of local infections mainly because infections spiked among South Korean workers returning home from Iraq and Russian sailors.

Of the 18 new imported cases, nine cases came from the United States, followed by Iraq with two cases and Ghana with two. The total number of cases coming in from overseas reached 2,618.

Starting Monday, foreign coronavirus patients who violate infectious disease measures should cover all costs of treatment and their self-quarantine, the government said.

Foreign patients who arrive from overseas after Aug. 24 will also be required to pay for part or all of the bills for COVID-19 treatment, depending on their nationality.

South Korea has treated locals and foreigners for COVID-19 free of charge, but the country has recently revised related law, as cases coming in from overseas have steadily risen, putting a burden on the local health care system.

South Korea, meanwhile, reported no additional deaths, keeping the death toll to 305. The fatality rate was 2.05 percent.

The total number of people released from quarantine after full recoveries stood at 13,863, up 46 from the previous day.

The country has carried out 1,665,084 tests since Jan. 3.

This photo, taken on Aug. 13, 2020, shows a signboard set up by the Seoul city government that expresses its determination to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic with citizens. (Yonhap)


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