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(2nd LD) Daily coronavirus cases break 1,000 mark for 1st time, toughest distancing under review

All News 14:30 December 13, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 5, 15, 18-20; CHANGES photos)
By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, Dec. 13 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's single-day coronavirus cases broke the 1,000-mark for the first time on Sunday, raising pressure on authorities to enforce the highest level of social distancing to slow down the virus spread.

The country added 1,030 more COVID-19 cases, including 1,002 local infections, raising the total caseload to 42,766, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Sunday's daily caseload jumped from the previous day's record high of 950, marking the highest since the country reported its first COVID-19 case in January.

The number of daily new cases remained around 400 to 600 earlier this month, but it shot up to over 900 on Saturday and broke through 1,000 on Sunday, raising alarm among authorities.

President Moon Jae-in was set to preside over an emergency anti-coronavirus meeting later Sunday for the first time in about 10 months in an indication that he takes the recent spike in virus cases seriously. Such meetings have usually been presided over by the prime minister.

People stand in line for COVID-19 testing at a screening station in Gangneung, 237 kilometers east of Seoul, on Dec. 13, 2020. (Yonhap)

People stand in line for COVID-19 testing at a screening station in Gangneung, 237 kilometers east of Seoul, on Dec. 13, 2020. (Yonhap)

Cluster infections from private gatherings coupled with massive infections at a church and a hospital in the metropolitan area pushed up the tally from the previous day.

Health authorities raised social distancing measures to Level 2.5, the second highest under the five-tier virus restrictions, earlier this week, but it has failed to slowed the virus so far.

In response to a sharp uptick in new cases, President Moon Jae-in on Saturday referred to the COVID-19 situation as an "emergency" and ordered authorities to mobilize all resources to contain the virus.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun also said the government will have no choice but to raise the antivirus rules to the highest level unless the spread of the coronavirus is curbed.

Authorities can adopt Level 3 when locally transmitted cases surge to 800 to 1,000 or the daily tally doubles from the previous day.

The average daily cases over the past week stood at 662, falling below the requirement.

A pedestrian passes by a church in western Seoul on Dec. 13, 2020. (Yonhap)

A pedestrian passes by a church in western Seoul on Dec. 13, 2020. (Yonhap)

Level 3 social distancing is less stringent than the lockdown measures adopted in the United States and Europe, but it is aimed at effectively minimizing social and business activities in a wide range of areas.

The toughest virus restrictions ban gatherings of 10 people or more, including all sporting events, while schools can only offer online classes.

People are advised to stay at home as much as possible, and companies are required to have nonessential employees work from home.

As part of its antivirus campaign, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education said Sunday it will require elementary schools and kindergartens in the capital to offer only online classes until the end of this year.

The greater Seoul area -- home to half of the country's 51 million population -- accounted for most of the cases.

The capital city of Seoul registered 399 new cases, while surrounding Gyeonggi Province and Incheon, west of Seoul, had 331 and 62, respectively.

In the western Seoul district of Ganseo, 39 people were newly confirmed to have contracted the virus in relation to a church to raise the total to 130. In Bucheon, west of the capital, four cases were registered from a care hospital to raise the total to 70.

Outside of the capital, the southeastern port city of Busan reported 56 additional cases, followed by the southeastern city of Daegu with 28, South Gyeongsang Province with 22 and North Gyeongsang Province with 18.

Among the confirmed cases, 28 were imported from abroad.

The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients came to 179.

KDCA reported two additional deaths, raising the total to 580.

The number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries came to 321, raising the total to 31,814.


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