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(LEAD) New infections near 700 despite enhanced social distancing rules

All News 12:09 December 09, 2020

(ATTN: RECASTS lead; UPDATES with more info in paras 3, 11-15; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, Dec. 9 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new virus cases neared 700 on Wednesday on soaring community infections in the greater Seoul area despite toughened social distancing measures.

The country reported 686 new virus cases, including 662 domestically transmitted ones, raising the total caseload to 39,432, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Of the 686 new virus cases, 524 were reported in the greater Seoul area, covering Gyeonggi Province and Incheon, just west of Seoul.

Container mobile sickbeds are set up at Seoul Medical Center in southeastern Seoul on Dec. 9, 2020, to brace for a possible shortage of hospital beds. (Yonhap)

The figure showed a sharp rise from 594 the previous day and 580 on Monday, hitting the second-highest mark since January when the first case was reported.

Four additional coronavirus deaths were reported, raising the death toll to 556.

The social distancing Level 2.5, the second-highest level under the five-tier scheme, went into effect Tuesday in the greater Seoul area, covering Gyeonggi Province and Incheon, west of Seoul.

In other areas, the third-highest level of 2 was applied.

Under the boosted guidelines to be effective till Dec. 28, a slew of measures have been taken to prevent people from gathering and traveling across the country.

Health officials said skyrocketing community infections were the main cause of the surge in new virus cases in the greater Seoul area, pointing to untraceable confirmed cases exceeding 20 percent of the total.

They have also warned of the wider pandemic, forecasting that the daily infections may approach 1,000 next week unless the current spread of the new virus is brought under control. The officials have been worried about a possible shortage of hospital beds to treat COVID-19 patients.

This image provided by Yonhap News TV on Dec. 9, 2020, shows a screening center set up in central Seoul. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Health authorities said they will take new measures as part of preemptive efforts to put the surge in virus cases under control.

The authorities have decided to carry out aggressive and preemptive tests of young and middle-aged people for the virus as they could be a main cause of the current wave of the infections due to their brisk activities.

Health authorities will increase the number of residential treatment centers and clinics specialized in treating COVID-19 patients to brace for a possible shortage of hospital beds.

Guidelines for the use of winter sports facilities such as ski resorts and ice rinks were featured in the new measures. Winter sports facilities are subject to close after 9 p.m. under Level 2 and to close down around the clock under Level 2.5.

A public advertisement starring well-known female golfer Pak Se-ri will be released to ask people to abide by the social distancing measures.

By region, 264 confirmed cases were reported in Seoul and 214 from the surrounding Gyeonggi Province. Incheon, west of Seoul, added 46 more cases. The greater Seoul area is home to about half of the country's 51.6 million population.

The number of imported cases reached 24, down from 28 the previous day. They include 11 from the United States and six from Europe.

The number of COVID-19 patients with serious symptoms across the country amounted to 149, up from 134 on Tuesday.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries came to 30,177, up 527 from Tuesday.


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