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(LEAD) New virus cases drop below 400, tougher distancing extended in greater Seoul area

All News 10:30 August 28, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 3, 12, 18-20, 2nd photo; CHANGES 1st photo)

SEOUL, Aug. 28 (Yonhap) -- The number of daily new coronavirus cases in South Korea dropped to below 400 on Friday, but sporadic cluster infections are still putting the country's virus fight at risk as health authorities decided to extend tougher social distancing measures in the greater Seoul area for one more week.

The country reported 371 new COVID-19 cases, including 359 local infections, raising the total caseload to 19,077, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Friday's daily tally marks a sharp drop from the previous day when the country's new virus cases spiked to a nearly six month high of 441. But fewer virus tests on the previous day might have dragged down the number of new cases as some outdoor virus screening clinics suspended operation due to Typhoon Bavi.

Still, the number of daily virus cases has stayed in the triple digits for more than two weeks. Since Aug. 14, more than 4,300 cases have been reported in South Korea, mostly tied to a conservative church in northern Seoul and the Aug. 15 Liberation Day rally in Seoul.

Health workers conduct virus tests at a drive-through COVID-19 screening clinic in Seoul on Aug. 28, 2020. (Yonhap)

Of the 359 locally transmitted cases, 284 were identified in the capital area, home to half of the country's 51 million population. Seoul added 145 more cases, while the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and western port city of Incheon reported 112 and 27 cases, respectively.

Other major cities reported additional infections, with the southwestern city of Gwangju adding 17 cases and the southeastern port city of Busan confirming eight more cases. All of the country's 17 provinces and municipalities reported additional virus cases.

Sarang Jeil Church in northern Seoul -- a hotbed of the recent spike in new infections -- has so far reported 959 COVID-19 cases. The church-linked cases also led to infections in at least 23 locations, with cases reported in nine different provinces and municipalities outside the greater Seoul area.

At least 273 patients have been reported from the Aug. 15 demonstration in central Seoul, with cases identified in 10 different provinces and municipalities outside the greater Seoul area.

South Korea had been getting the virus under control, with the daily new cases staying in double-digit figures, until early August. Multiple cluster infections in the greater Seoul area then started to break out and put a strain on the country's virus fight efforts.

To stem the virus spread, health authorities first applied Level 2 social distancing in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province for two weeks starting Aug. 16. The western port city of Incheon was put under the measures three days later before the government expanded the scheme nationwide on Sunday.

Health workers prepare to work as citizens wait in line at a virus screening clinic in Gwangju on Aug. 28, 2020. (Yonhap)

However, since the virus cases in the greater Seoul area showed no signs of letup, the government on Friday decided to extend the Level 2 distancing for one more week through the first weekend of September.

The accumulated number of COVID-19 cases in the greater Seoul area has now reached 7,200, which exceeds that of the city of Daegu -- once the country's virus hotspot following a massive outbreak tied to followers of minor religious sect Shincheonji.

Under the Level 2 distancing, indoor gatherings of 50 or more people and outdoor gatherings of 100 or more people are strongly restricted. Sports events must be held without crowds, while facilities with high infection risks, such as bars and internet cafes, have to suspend their businesses. The government also banned in-person church services.

In addition to the Level 2 measures, the capital city also decided to ban the use of public transportation for those not wearing masks. Rallies of 10 or more people are restricted in Seoul.

Health authorities said they are looking into options of moving to the toughest Level 3 distancing but are cautious over the plan as it could heavily undermine people's social and economic activities.

If the current restrictions are elevated to the highest level, gatherings of more than 10 people will be banned. Not only high-risk facilities, such as clubs, but also mid-risk facilities, including movie theaters, wedding halls and cafes, would be advised to suspend their operations.

The number of newly identified imported cases stood at 12, with eight of them detected at quarantine checkpoints at airports and harbors. The country's total number of imported cases is now at 2,782.

South Korea reported three more death from the coronavirus, raising the death toll to 316. The country's virus fatality rate is now at 1.66 percent.

But the country could see more deaths from the virus as the number of critically ill COVID-19 patients reached 58, up 12 from a day earlier.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 14,551, up 90 from the previous day, with 4,210 people isolated for COVID-19 treatment, up 278 from a day ago.

kdon@yna.co.kr
(END)

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