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(LEAD) New virus cases stay below 200 for 3rd day in S. Korea

All News 10:59 September 05, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS details throughout)

SEOUL, Sept. 5 (Yonhap) -- The number of additional new coronavirus cases in South Korea stayed below 200 for the third straight day on Saturday, but health authorities said it is still too early for the country to let down its guard.

The country reported 168 new COVID-19 cases, including 158 local infections, raising the total caseload to 21,010, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

A majority of the locally transmitted cases came from the greater Seoul area, including 51 in Seoul and 47 in nearby Gyeonggi Province. Incheon, west of Seoul, also reported 14 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.

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.

A health professional works at a screening center in the southwestern city of Gwangju on Sept. 4, 2020. (Yonhap)

While the church and rally-related clusters accounted for a large portion of the recent infections, reaching 1,152 and 473, respectively, as of noon Friday, other cluster infections have popped up across the country.

Two hospitals in Seoul together reported more than 20 cases, while infections also broke out at an indoor bar and a children's book company in Gyeonggi Province. More than 20 have also tested positive at a kimchi factory in South Chungcheong Province.

A rise in cases with unknown infection routes is keeping authorities worried over the virus spreading further.

The proportion of new patients with unidentified transmission routes hit a new record high of 24.4 percent over the past two weeks, indicating there could be more unknown infections in local communities. Cluster infections accounted for 41 percent of new outbreaks over the period.

While the latest figure marks a fall from 198 cases on Friday, health authorities said the country should remain on alert, calling for citizens to abide by the government's tightened social distancing guidelines.

"While (new cases) are coming in at around 200 and are on a decline, it is not yet a stage to relax," Health Minister Park Neunghoo said in a government response meeting held at the government complex in Seoul.

"Until the (number) of patients substantially falls to a level that does not put a burden on quarantining and the health system, we need citizens to understand and endure a bit more," said Park, referring to the government's decision to extend a toughened social distancing guideline for another week.

South Korea on Friday decided to extend tougher anti-virus curbs on restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops in the greater Seoul area for another week, as sporadic cluster infections and untraceable cases are still popping up in the densely populated area.

Since Sunday, the country has been limiting operations of restaurants, bakeries and franchise coffee chains in the Seoul metropolitan area under the so-called Level 2.5 social distancing guidelines, while implementing Level 2 measures across the country since mid-August.

A bakery franchise in the western Seoul ward of Songpa is relatively empty on Sept. 4, 2020. (Yonhap)

The health minister mentioned growing concerns over a rise in critically ill patients, asking workers at health institutions and care centers for the elderly to stay on alert.

The number of patients in serious or critical condition came to 159, up two from the previous day and setting a new record since the country reported its first COVID-19 case in late January.

South Korea added two more deaths, raising the death toll to 333.

The number of newly identified imported cases came to 10.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries reached 16,009, up 226 from the previous day.

South Korea has carried out 2,037,045 COVID-19 tests since Jan. 3.

Workers carry takeout lunch boxes in central Seoul on Sept. 4, 2020. (Yonhap)

mlee@yna.co.kr
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