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(LEAD) Seoul's daily COVID-19 cases hit record high 154 as cluster infections pop up

All News 15:38 August 27, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS details in paras 5-6, 12-15, 18, photos)
By Lee Minji

SEOUL, Aug. 27 (Yonhap) -- New daily coronavirus cases identified in South Korea's capital have reached a record high, data showed Thursday, raising alarm bells over additional cases spreading from cluster infections here.

The number of cases reported Wednesday totaled 154, breaking the previous high of 151 on Aug. 18, according to the data by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Virus cases in the capital have sharply spiked following cluster infections related to churches and a mass rally in central Seoul on Aug. 15. Daily cases have mostly remained in the triple digits after dipping to 97 on Sunday.

Residents wait to get tested for the new coronavirus at a community health center in the southwestern Seoul ward of Guro on Aug. 27, 2020. (Yonhap)
A health worker struggles to close a door at a screening center in eastern Seoul on Aug. 27, 2020, due to strong winds. (Yonhap)

The latest infections came from new clusters in the city's southwestern area.

Twenty-three new infections were traced to an apartment building in Guro Ward, raising the relevant caseload to 28. The figure includes infections at a meat factory in Geumcheon Ward where a resident works. Twenty workers have so far tested positive.

Some 500 residents live in the Guro apartment. Health authorities tested 436 of them at a temporary screening center set up near the complex. A total of 245 have tested negative and others are waiting for their results.

New infections were also identified at churches across the capital, a hospital in the western ward of Gangseo and a sports education institution in northern Seoul, according to the data.

Of the 154 new cases, 65, or 42.2 percent, came from unknown infection routes, keeping authorities on edge over the new coronavirus silently spreading through these infections.

"To ease the spread, it is important to swiftly trace the routes of patients that have not yet been identified. We plan to prioritize expanding the taskforce for epidemiological study and block the infectious sources," Park Yoo-mi, the city's director of public health, said in a livestreamed press briefing.

Doors to the National Assembly building in western Seoul are chained shut on Aug. 27, 2020, after a journalist covering politics tested positive for the new coronavirus. (Yonhap)
People wearing face masks walk down stairs at Sindorim Station in the southwestern Seoul ward of Guro on Aug. 18, 2020. (Yonhap)

On concerns that the mass infection at the Guro apartment building could have spread through its pipes and drainage, Park said health authorities are trying to determine the exact infection route.

"A lot of infections occurred along one line of the apartment. Experts on infections, architects, housing officials, and city and government officials have been conducting on-site research since 10 a.m.," Park said. "Some have raised (the possibility of the virus) spreading through the pipes, the drainage or even the elevator, we will look into the case considering all possibilities."

All products made at the relevant meat factory will be disposed, Park said, adding that there has so far been no case of the virus spreading through food products.

In a daily press briefing held on Thursday afternoon, health authorities played down the possibility of the virus spreading through pipes and drainage.

Kwon Joon-wook, deputy director at the KCDC, said they consider the possibility of infection through such routes "not that high," adding that a patient who showed symptoms earlier was living on an upper floor compared to other patients.

Kwon advised people to keep their masks on in elevators to minimize risks of possible infection.

On Thursday, South Korea reported 441 new cases, including 434 local infections, raising the country's total caseload to 18,706, according to the KCDC.

It marked the first time that the country's daily virus cases surpassed the 400 threshold since March 7 when mass outbreaks were reported in the southeastern region of North Gyeongsang Province and Daegu.

The government recently placed all of South Korea under Level Two social distancing guidelines, the second-highest in a three-tier system, on concerns over a mass outbreak.


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