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(2nd LD) Virus tally exceeds 500 for 3rd day; authorities under pressure to toughen social distancing

All News 12:54 November 28, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 6-7, 15-18)

SEOUL, Nov. 28 (Yonhap) -- The daily number of new coronavirus cases in South Korea exceeded 500 for the third straight day Saturday, as health authorities face growing pressure to toughen social distancing restrictions amid continued sporadic infections across the country.

The country added 504 more COVID-19 cases, including 486 local infections, raising the total caseload to 33,375, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA). It reported six additional coronavirus fatalities, bringing the total to 522.

The daily infection tally has stayed in the triple digits since Nov. 8, with the figure hovering above 300 since Nov. 18 except for Monday. Amid deepening worries over the third infection wave, the government is expected to decide how to readjust social distancing curbs on Sunday.

The latest figure is down from 569 on Friday and 583 cases on Thursday when the daily tally spiked to an eight-month high.

Fears of transmission have further risen as over 493,400 students across the country are set to take the state-run college entrance exam on Thursday next week, with cluster infections at private gatherings, public facilities and the military complicating quarantine efforts.

This photo, taken on Nov. 27, 2020, shows military personnel conducting disinfection work at a state college entrance examination site in Sokcho, 213 kilometers east of Seoul. (Yonhap)

Cluster infections, including one in an Army unit, continued to dampen containment efforts.

Sixteen soldiers undergoing training or stationed at the Sangmudae Artillery School in Jangseong, 310 kilometers south of Seoul, tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday after an Army officer from the same compound was confirmed to have contracted the virus the previous day.

The KDCA said that 176 new virus cases were reported from Seoul, while the daily tallies for Gyeonggi Province, Gangwon Province, Busan and Incheon stood at 122, 33, 27 and 25, respectively.

Of the total 18 imported cases, eight were from the Americas and another eight from Asia excluding China.

The authorities have raised the social distancing level by one notch to Level 2, the third-highest in the country's five-tier system, in the Seoul metropolitan area, where the majority of virus cases have been identified, and began to apply enhanced measures from Tuesday.

Other municipalities have also been enforcing tougher distancing rules depending on their virus situation.

On Sunday, the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters plans to convene a session to discuss whether to raise the social distancing level for the Seoul metropolitan area and other provinces.

The move came as some medical experts warned that if the government does not employ more stringent measures to contain the pandemic, the daily virus count could soar to 1,000.

Experts said that the latest wave of infections is different from previous ones that started in limited, largely traceable spots as the current one entails sporadic transmissions in various zones across the country.

Some quarantine officials, however, appeared circumspect about rushing to toughen social distancing curbs, as the recently strengthened restrictions will take some time to show their effect.

The weekly average of the daily virus counts from Sunday to Saturday stood at 424.6. Excluding imported cases, the local average is at 400.1, slightly higher than the minimum 400 mark required to raise social distancing to Level 2.5.

Under Level 2.5, the authorities are to roll out tougher measures such as limiting the number of people attending wedding or funeral events to less than 50 and banning PC cafes, theaters and other facilities from operating after 9 p.m.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 27,349, up 246 from the previous day.


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