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(3rd LD) Tougher anti-virus curbs in greater Seoul extended; new virus cases under 200 for 2nd day

All News 16:46 September 04, 2020

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SEOUL, Sept. 4 (Yonhap) -- The number of additional new coronavirus cases stayed below 200 for the second day in a row Friday, but South Korea decided to extend enhanced anti-virus curbs in the greater Seoul area for another week, as untraceable cases and cluster infections continued to rise.

The country reported 198 new COVID-19 cases, including 189 local infections, raising the total caseload to 20,842, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

On Thursday, the country reported 195 new virus cases. South Korea has been posting triple-digit rises for around three weeks due to cluster infections tied to a slew of churches and an anti-government rally in central Seoul in mid-August.

A medical staffer works at a makeshift clinic in Gwangju, 320 kilometers south of Seoul, on Sept. 4, 2020. (Yonhap)

After keeping the new cases of COVID-19 in two-digit figures for more than five months, South Korea added more than 100 cases on Aug. 14 before the number shot up to 441 on Aug. 27. It then fell below 300 on Sunday.

Health authorities implemented an enhanced social distancing scheme Sunday in the greater Seoul, which houses half of the 51-million population.

Under the scheme that originally planned to run for a week, restaurants in the Seoul metropolitan area can operate normally from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. but then can only offer takeout after that time. Franchise coffee chains can only offer takeaway around the clock.

On Friday, health authorities said the measures will be extended for another week through Sept. 13, as untraceable cases and cluster infections from churches, apartments, and offices continued to pop up.

In addition to the franchise coffee chains, bakeries and dessert shops will also be ordered to offer only takeout as well.

"The number of COVID-19 cases is gradually decreasing, as people cooperated with the social distancing schemes," Health Minister Park Neunghoo said in a briefing.

"But we still need to extend the scheme until the country's new virus cases show a clear slowdown, and regain control over the pandemic."

South Korea also decided to extend the Level 2 social distancing scheme imposed nationwide since late August by two weeks through Sept. 20.

Under the policy, indoor meetings of more than 50 people and open-air gatherings of over 100 people are banned.

Any gatherings of 10 or more people will be banned if the country implements the highest restrictions of level 3.

Medical staffers work at a makeshift clinic in Gwangju, 320 kilometers south of Seoul, on Sept. 4, 2020. (Yonhap)

Health authorities say the daily increase of around 100 COVID-19 patients is considered a manageable figure under the local medical system. They assess that the current stringent antivirus curbs have helped curb the spread of the virus to some extent.

Of the locally transmitted cases, Seoul added 68 cases, while the surrounding Gyeonggi Province reported 55 cases.

Other municipalities reported additional infections, with the southwestern city of Gwangju adding 10 cases and the southeastern city of Daegu reporting seven new infections.

As of Friday, 1,152 cases had been traced to the Sarang Jeil Church in northern Seoul, a hotbed of the recent spike in new infections, up 13 from the previous day. The church members have been blamed for being lax in implementing social distancing rules.
Infections related to the church have also caused multiple stages of transmission, leading to outbreaks in 27 other locations, including offices and hospitals.

Another 473 virus cases were tied to the Aug. 15 demonstration in central Seoul, up 11 from Thursday.

Other sporadic cluster infections were also observed across the nation.

A kimchi factory in Cheongyang, 124 kilometers south of the capital city, has reported 22 infections, up three from a day earlier.

A hospital in eastern Seoul added six more patients, raising the related caseload to 16.

"There are still cluster infections from offices, gyms, cram schools, restaurants and even medical institutions," KCDC Director Jeong Eun-kyeong said. "We cannot normalize our everyday lives under the current level of new infections."

Travelers wait to board a chartered flight heading to China at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Sept. 4, 2020. The flight was arranged by Hyundai Motor Group to transport its workers. (Yonhap)

The number of patients in serious or critical condition came to 157, up three from the previous day and setting a new record since the country reported its first COVID-19 case in late January.

The proportion of new patients with unidentified transmission routes reached 23.3 percent over the past two weeks, indicating there could be more unknown infections in local communities. Cluster infections accounted for 41.8 percent of new cases over the period.

Health authorities said the number of such patients is expected to continue to grow further. The current figure already beats the government's previous estimated peak of 134.

Jeong added that while older patients and those with underlying diseases are more likely to suffer severe side effects or complications, younger people are no exception as well.

South Korea added two more deaths, raising the death toll to 331. The fatality rate reached 1.59 percent.

The number of newly identified imported cases came to nine.

Among the imported cases, arrivals from China and Russia accounted for two each. There were cases from Turkey, France and the United States as well.

The accumulated number of imported cases reached 2,867. Foreign nationals accounted for roughly 36 percent.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries reached 15,783, up 254 from the previous day. Around three-quarters of the patients reported here have been cured.

South Korea has carried out 2,018,906 COVID-19 tests since Jan. 3.

colin@yna.co.kr
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