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(2nd LD) S. Korea braces for 2nd wave of virus outbreak, tougher measures eyed in greater Seoul area

All News 11:41 August 18, 2020

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

SEOUL, Aug. 18 (Yonhap) -- The number of daily new virus cases in South Korea bounced back sharply Tuesday as infections linked to churches in the capital city showed no signs of a slowdown, prompting the country to consider tougher virus-preventive measures in the greater Seoul area currently dogged by a series of cluster infections.

The country added 246 more COVID-19 cases, including 235 local infections, raising the country's total caseload to 15,761, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

It marked a three-digit number for the fifth straight day, following 166 more infections on Saturday and 103 Friday.

On Sunday, South Korea reported a whopping 279 new daily infections, marking the first time since early March that the figure surpassed 200. The figure fell back to 197 on Monday.

The country added nearly 1,000 cases over the past five days.

Commuters wearing masks walk at a subway station in southern Seoul on Aug. 18, 2020. (Yonhap)

Commuters wearing masks walk at a subway station in southern Seoul on Aug. 18, 2020. (Yonhap)

Of the newly identified local infections, a total of 131 cases were reported from the capital city of Seoul, and 52 from the surrounding Gyeonggi Province.

Incheon, just west of Seoul, added 18 more cases.

Infections tied to the Sarang Jeil Church in northern Seoul have spiked to 383, according to the health authorities.

Health authorities said they have carried out tests on 2,500 church members so far and are currently tracking the whereabouts of around 800 members. Some 15 percent of the church members tested were confirmed to have been infected with the virus.

South Korea said all people who participated in a large-scale anti-government rally held on Saturday should visit the nearest clinics to be tested, as some church members infected with the virus attended the demonstration.

In a separate statement, the Seoul metropolitan government said a total of 483 COVID-19 cases across the nation have been traced to the conservative church.

Visited Sarang Jeil Church, where the 2nd wave of coronavirus broke out



"This week will be a critical juncture for the country's virus fight as cluster infections in the greater capital area are on the brink of spreading nationwide," Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said in a regular press briefing.

South Korea, which never imposed a draconian lockdown, has been seeking to curb the spread of the virus while maintaining most business and daily activities.

Due to the spike in the new virus cases, however, health authorities decided to raise the level of social distancing in Seoul and the neighboring areas by one notch to Level 2 in the three-tier system for two weeks from Sunday.

The scheme will still allow South Koreans to maintain most of their daily routines, but gatherings of more than 100 people will be banned. Sports events will be banned from having spectators.

Health authorities said they may further adopt tougher social distancing rules unless the pace of new infections in the Seoul metropolitan area, which houses around half of the nation's population, reaches a manageable level this week.

"The current situation is so grave that we have to consider adopting tougher (infection preventive) measures." Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said in a pan-government meeting on infection prevention. "Anyone in the capital city and neighboring areas can be infected, and it is worrisome that the virus outbreak may spread across the country."

Quarantine officials disinfect Yoido Full Gospel Church in western Seoul on Aug. 18, 2020. (Yonhap)

Quarantine officials disinfect Yoido Full Gospel Church in western Seoul on Aug. 18, 2020. (Yonhap)

Should the highest level of distancing rules be imposed, gatherings of more than 10 people will be banned. South Koreans will then face the most intense restrictions in their everyday lives since the country detected its first COVID-19 case on Jan. 20.

Health authorities are concerned over the latest spike in the number of cases traced to churches, as it resembles that of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a minor religious sect, which was the epicenter of the country's first wave of the virus outbreak.

Thousands of followers, most of whom were from its branch in the southeastern city of Daegu, were infected with the virus. Due to the cluster infections, the country's new daily virus cases peaked at 909 on Feb. 29.

South Korea, meanwhile, reported one more death, raising the toll to 306. The fatality rate came to 1.94 percent.

The country added just 11 imported cases on Tuesday, with France accounting for two cases. There were also infections among arrivals from the United States, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Ethiopia.

South Korea, which has a population of roughly 51 million, carried out 1,697,042 tests since Jan. 3.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 13,934, up 17 from the previous day.


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