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(4th LD) New virus cases under 200 for 17th day; untraceable infections hit record high

All News 21:00 September 19, 2020

(ATTN: CHANGES headline and lead; ADDS details in paras 17-19, last para)

SEOUL, Sept. 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new coronavirus cases stayed below 200 for the 17th straight day Saturday, but health authorities remain alert as untraceable cases hit a record high.

The country added 110 more COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the total caseload to 22,893, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

The new cases mark a decline from 126 reported Friday but are higher than Tuesday's 106.

Of the new cases, 106 were locally transmitted and the rest came from overseas. The death toll rose by one to 378.

Untraceable cases accounted for 28.1 percent of all cases reported in the past two weeks, meaning authorities have been unable to determine how patients got infected in nearly three in every 10 cases. It is the highest since the government began to compile related data in April.

A visitor consults with a medical worker at a COVID-19 testing station at a community health center in Seoul on Sept. 14, 2020, when the number of new cases stood at 109, including 11 entrants from abroad, marking the 12th consecutive day the figure had stayed in the 100 level. (Yonhap)

Authorities are still struggling to bring the outbreak under control amid little signs of a significant slowdown in sight, as sporadic cluster infections tied to offices, churches, a nursing home and an auto factory continue to occur in the metropolitan areas.

Of the new 106 local cases, 38 came from Seoul, 41 from the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and 11 from Incheon, west of the capital. The cumulative caseload from the capital region is nearing 10,000.

Later in the day, the agency said as of noon, a total of 24 cases linked to a real estate company in Seoul's Gangnam district have been confirmed since the first related case was reported Tuesday.

Those traced to Yonsei Severance Hospital in western Seoul rose by two to 48, while a nursing home in Goyang, north of the capital, added one more new case to 19.

Cases tied to a Kia Motors Corp.'s plant in Gwangmyeong, just south of Seoul, rose by two to 16.

Infections tied to last month's anti-government rallies came to 613, up four from the previous day. The Seoul city government said it will sue the pastor who led the demonstrations for exacerbating the outbreak and hampering authorities' tracing work by instructing followers to give false information.

The country's outbreak trend has been on a downward trajectory due to tougher social distancing rules that had been enforced until last week to contain the resurgence sparked by church gatherings and political rallies in mid-August.

The daily new cases peaked at 441 on Aug. 27, before gradually falling below 200. New case numbers are still far higher than 30-50 counted prior to the resurgence. The daily caseload dropped to single digits in early May.

Officials said health authorities are studying what may be the nation's first case of a coronavirus reinfection found in a woman in her 20s.

The patient was first diagnosed with COVID-19 in March and released from isolation after recovery. She tested positive again in early April, Kwon Joon-wook, deputy director of the Central Disease Control Headquarters, said in a press briefing.

The authorities believe the woman was likely infected through different routes, but more study is needed to reach a conclusion.

For two weeks from Monday, South Korea lowered the nation's social distancing scheme from Level 2.5 to Level 2 as the growth in the number of daily new virus cases, while still in the triple digit range, has shown a stable downward trajectory.

The eased virus curbs allow smaller businesses to run till late hours and restaurants and cafes to operate as usual in the face of growing concerns that the tougher measures will further hurt the economy already blighted by the pandemic.

On Sunday, the government plans to decide whether to extend the Level 2 social distancing scheme for Incheon and Gyeonggi Province surrounding Seoul.

The biggest task for the health authorities now is to prevent a potential rebound in new virus cases around the upcoming Chuseok fall harvest holiday that falls later this month, a tradition that entails mass movements of people and family gatherings.

The government again urged citizens Saturday to refrain from gathering and traveling during the holiday.

"Making contact at crowded tourist sites raises transmission risks. I ask everyone to refrain from visiting your hometowns and traveling so as not to turn this Chuseok into a trigger for more infection spread," Second Vice Health Minister Kang Do-tae said in a government response meeting.

A poll showed Thursday that only 16 percent of the respondents said they will travel to their hometowns for this year's Chuseok.

A total of 19,970 people have been released from quarantine after making full recoveries, up 199 from the previous day.

The country has carried out 2,219,162 coronavirus tests since Jan. 3.

The pandemic, which started in China late last year, has killed more than 952,000 people worldwide and infected over 30 million as of Saturday, a tally from Johns Hopkins University showed.

Children chat in front of a reopened private education institute in Seoul on Sept. 14, 2020, the first day of the easing of toughened social distancing guidelines, as new COVID-19 cases noticeably declined. Such private institutions were shut down over the previous two weeks amid a resurgence of the virus. (Yonhap)

elly@yna.co.kr
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