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New infections stay under 300 for 4th day; virus fight harried by untraceable cases, critically ill patients

All News 09:53 September 02, 2020

SEOUL, Sept. 2 (Yonhap) -- The number of additional new coronavirus cases stayed below 300 for the fourth consecutive day on Wednesday, probably helped by the country's enhanced social distancing scheme, but the growing number of untraceable infections, together with more critically ill patients, is making the country's virus fight tougher.

The country reported 267 new COVID-19 cases, including 253 local infections, raising the total caseload to 20,449, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

It marked the 21st consecutive day of triple-digit rises. The country has been reporting three-digit new COVID-19 cases since Aug. 14, led by group infections from a conservative church in the capital city.

A banner, which urges citizens to wear protective masks, is hung at the Seoul Metropolitan Library on Sept. 1, 2020. (Yonhap)

The daily new infections continued to snowball to 441 on Thursday, far below the record high of 909 cases reported in late February. But a huge chunk of infections reported over the past few weeks came from the greater Seoul area that houses half of the country's 51-million population.

Of the locally transmitted cases, Seoul added 98 cases, while the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and the west port city of Incheon reported 79 and 10 cases, respectively.

Other major municipalities reported additional infections, with the southwestern city of Gwangju adding 10 cases and the central city of Daejeon reporting 14 new cases.

A total of 1,083 cases has been traced to the Sarang Jeil Church in northern Seoul, a hotbed of the recent spike in new infections, according to the latest data released on Monday.

Another group of 419 patients has been reported from the Aug. 15 anti-government demonstration in central Seoul, with cases identified not only in the capital city area but in different provinces across the country.

A church in Yeongdeungpo Ward, western Seoul, has so far reported 34 cases as well, the KCDC said.

A street near Gangnam Station in southern Seoul is nearly empty late at night on Sept. 1, 2020, as South Korea implemented enhanced social distancing guidelines, under which restaurants and bakeries can only operate until 9 p.m. (Yonhap)

Despite the latest slowdown in daily new cases, whether South Korea is bringing the latest spike in virus cases under control is still unclear.

According to the KCDC, the ratio of new patients with unidentified transmission routes hit a new record high of 24.3 percent over the past two weeks, indicating there could be more unknown infections in local communities.

The number of patients in serious or critical conditions came to 124, soaring 20 from the previous day.

It marked a sharp increase from just nine patients reported on Aug. 18. A higher number of critically ill virus patients implies the country's COVID-19 deaths can also rise further down the road, and the country may run out of hospital beds in the near future as well.

Health authorities say this week will be a critical juncture as the country can observe the effect of the Level 2 social distancing scheme that was implemented in greater Seoul on Aug. 16 and nationwide on Aug. 23.

Under the Level 2 scheme, indoor meetings of more than 50 people and open-air gatherings of over 100 people are banned in principle. So-called risk-prone facilities, including karaoke rooms, clubs, PC cafes and buffets, have been ordered to shut down.

If the current restrictions are elevated to the highest level, gatherings of more than 10 people will be banned.

On Sunday, South Korea also implemented a quasi-Level 3 scheme in the Seoul metropolitan area. Under enhanced guidelines, restaurants and bakeries can operate until 9 p.m., and only takeaway and delivery are permitted from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m..

For franchise coffee chains, only takeout or delivery is permitted regardless of operating hours.

South Korea added two new deaths, raising the death toll to 326.

The number of newly identified imported cases came to 14.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries reached 15,356, up 158 from the previous day.


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