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(LEAD) New virus cases below 200 for 6th day; cluster infections still drag on virus fight

All News 11:58 September 08, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details throughout; CHANGES photo)

SEOUL, Sept. 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new virus cases stayed below 200 for the sixth consecutive day Tuesday, but sporadic cluster infections across the nation continued to put health authorities on edge.

The country added 136 more COVID-19 cases, including 120 local infections, raising the total caseload to 21,432, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

It marked a slight increase from 119 additional cases reported Monday, the fewest in 24 days.

This photo, taken on Sept. 7, 2020, shows a franchise bakery in Seoul, where tables and chairs were stacked, as onsite eating is banned under the stricter social distancing scheme imposed in the greater capital region over the COVID-19 pandemic. (Yonhap)

South Korea has been scrambling to contain a flare-up in virus cases as daily infections have been in the triple digits since Aug. 14 due to cluster infections tied to churches and a large-scale rally in central Seoul in mid-August.

New virus cases soared to a five-month high of 441 on Aug. 27, but they have been on a downward trend on stricter social distancing measures, which health authorities called a "positive" sign in the virus fight.

The KCDC said the enhanced social distancing scheme, called Level 2.5 measures, currently being imposed in the greater Seoul has begun to have an effect.

"The effect of the social distancing has become evident," Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health ministry official, said in a briefing.

"In particular, new infections have been in the double digits for the second straight day in the Seoul area in an indication that the resurgence in virus cases has stabilized," he said.

Health authorities said they will monitor the trend of the virus outbreak further to decide whether to extend the tougher virus curbs around the weekend.

After the eight-day operation, the country extended the tougher virus curbs by another week from Monday in the capital region, home to half of the country's 51.6 million population, as virus cases spiked at an alarming pace.

Under the scheme, eating at restaurants and small eateries is only allowed until 9 p.m. Franchise coffee chains, bakeries and ice cream parlors are permitted to offer only takeout and delivery.

The country also extended its Level 2 social distancing measures across the country by another two weeks until Sept. 20 as cluster infections continued to pop up nationwide.

Trainee doctors receive coronavirus tests at a screening facility at Asan Medical Center in southern Seoul on Sept. 8, 2020, after they returned to work following a weekslong strike over the government's medical reform plan. (Yonhap)

Of the newly identified local infections, 67 cases were reported in Seoul and 29 from Gyeonggi Province that surrounds the capital. Incheon, just west of Seoul, reported two more cases.

Other municipalities reported new infections, with the southeastern port city of Busan adding one cases and the southwestern city of Gwangju reporting 12 new infections.

Cases traced to Sarang Jeil Church in northern Seoul, a hotbed of the recent spike in new infections, reached 1,163 as of noon Monday.

The church-tied cases marked the largest cluster infection after more than 5,000 virus cases traced to the minor religious sect of Shincheonji were reported in Daegu in late February and early March.

Cases tied to the anti-government rally in Seoul on Aug. 15 reached 532.

Sporadic cluster infections showed no signs of letup, with cases traced to a call center in eastern Seoul reaching 18. Infections tied to an eatery at a traditional market in Gwangju came to 11.

Health authorities remain vigilant against a potential rebound in virus cases due to people's movements during the upcoming Chuseok fall harvest holiday.

This year's Chuseok holiday runs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4. The Korean autumn harvest celebration is one of the country's biggest traditional holidays and serves as a chance for family members to visit their hometowns.

This photo, provided by the National Assembly on Sept. 7, 2020, shows a quarantine official disinfecting the briefing room of the parliament in Seoul after a journalist covering the assembly tested positive for the new coronavirus. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The country, meanwhile, reported 16 imported cases, with four cases coming from India and another four from Turkey.

South Korea reported five more deaths, raising the death toll to 341. The fatality rate was 1.59 percent.

The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients reached 151 as of midnight, down 11 from the previous day.

The portion of virus patients in their 60s or older accounted for 85.2 percent of the total seriously or critically ill people as of Monday.

Concerns about a shortage of hospital beds linger, as intensive care beds that can be used immediately reached five in the wider capital region and 37 across the nation, the KCDC said.

Health authorities said they plan to secure an additional 20 intensive care beds within this week.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 16,636, up 339 from the previous day.

The country has carried out 2,066,078 coronavirus tests since Jan. 3.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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