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(3rd LD) S. Korea reports 197 new virus infections amid fears of resurgence in greater capital

All News 15:14 August 17, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS KCDC chief's remarks, details in paras 12-16, 18-20)

SEOUL, Aug. 17 (Yonhap) -- South Korea reported 197 more cases of the new coronavirus on Monday as it battles sporadic outbreaks in Seoul and its neighboring area amid growing fears of resurgence in the greater Seoul area.

The additional COVID-19 cases, including 188 local infections, raised the country's total caseload to 15,515, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). Of the new cases, 188 were local transmissions.

Monday's figure came a day after the nation reported 279 new daily infections, marking the first time since early March that the new daily infections surpassed 200.

People in Seoul's Seongbuk Ward wait to get tested for the new coronavirus on Aug. 16, 2020. (Yonhap)

Although the number of new cases declined from a day earlier, it marked a three-digit number for the fourth straight day, following 166 infections Saturday and 103 Friday.

Of the newly identified local infections, a total of 89 cases was reported in the capital city of Seoul, and 67 were from the surrounding Gyeonggi Province, the KCDC said.

Alarmed by a resurgence of infections in recent days, the government raised social distancing in Seoul and its neighboring areas by one notch to Level 2 in the three-tier system for two weeks from Sunday. But health authorities are concerned about further spread of the virus out of the capital area.

Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip told reporters that authorities will further tighten social distancing rules unless the pace of new infections in the Seoul metropolitan area stabilizes by the end of this week.

To help slow the spread of the virus in the greater capital area, health authorities formed a pan-government task force, Kim said.

Kim called for people in the greater capital area to stay home and avoid unnecessary gatherings, warning that, "New infections in the area could happen at anytime and anywhere."

South Korea saw hundreds of daily new infections in the southeastern city of Daegu in late February and early March but brought the outbreak under control.

Kim said the situation in the capital area is graver than that in Daegu, citing difficulties tracing people who came into contact with patients.

A man gets tested for the new coronavirus at a makeshift testing center set up in the northeastern Seoul ward of Seongbuk on Aug. 17, 2020, amid growing fears over the resurgence of the virus in the greater Seoul area. (Yonhap)

KCDC Director Jeong Eun-kyeong said in a briefing that the virus clusters linked to religious activities have spread around the nation "at a terrific speed."

Health authorities judged that the current situation is in an "early stage of large-scale community outbreaks," Jeong said.

Multiple clusters with secondary transmission of the virus, including call centers, child care facilities and nursing hospitals, are growing across the nation, Jeong said.

Jeong renewed calls for people to strictly follow social distancing rules, wear face masks and get tested if they exhibit symptoms.

Over the past two weeks, cluster inflections accounted for 65.1 percent of total infections, with patients with unknown origins accounting for 11.6 percent.

Sporadic cluster infections have shown no signs of a let-up, with most cases traced to small and medium-sized churches in the greater Seoul area.

Infections tied to the Sarang Jeil Church in northern Seoul have spiked to 319 so far, while cases linked to the Woori Jeil Church in Yongin, south of Seoul, increased to 131. Local authorities have ordered the churches' congregations to take COVID-19 tests.

A total of 13 patients were confirmed in relation to a Starbucks store in Paju, north of Seoul, on Monday, raising the total number of cases tied to the coffee shop to 42.

In the southwestern city of Gwangju, bars and clubs were ordered to shut down for 10 days after 14 cases were reported in relation to a nightlife district in the city.

A Starbucks outlet in Paju, just north of Seoul, is closed on Aug. 16, 2020, after a customer tested positive for COVID-19. (Yonhap)

Seoul and its neighboring area are home to 25 million people.

Sporadic infections have also been reported in recent days from the fast-food franchise Lotteria, an investment company, offices, schools and coffee shops.

South Korea, meanwhile, reported no additional fatalities, keeping the death toll at 305. The fatality rate was 1.99 percent.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 13,917, up seven from the previous day.

kdh@yna.co.kr
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