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(4th LD) S. Korea's virus cases hit all-time high despite tougher distancing rules

All News 19:55 December 25, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS figures in para 6)

SEOUL, Dec. 25 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's daily new coronavirus cases hit a new record high on Friday, despite the most stringent social distancing rules to contain the winter wave of the virus.

South Korea reported 1,241 more COVID-19 cases, including 1,216 local infections, raising the total caseload to 54,770, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

The tally marked a hike from 985 on Thursday, according the public health agency.

The hike is mainly blamed on 288 new cases at Dongbu Detention Center in eastern Seoul in one of the largest cluster infections in South Korea.

The second mass outbreak at the detention center raised the total number of infections linked to the facility nationwide to 514, the justice ministry said.

People wait in a long line around a large Christmas tree to get tested for COVID-19 at a screening center in Seongnam, just south of Seoul, on Christmas Eve on Dec. 24, 2020. (Yonhap)

Later in the day, health authorities and local governments said 726 new cases were confirmed from 12 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, 58 more than at the same time on Thursday. The greater Seoul area accounted for 68.6 percent with 498 cases.

South Korea has banned gatherings of five or more people across the country in the most stringent social distancing rules meant to contain the spread of the virus.

Yoon Tae-ho, a senior official at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, asked people to cancel gatherings and stay at home, saying tougher social distancing rules and antivirus measures could reduce the number of infections in the new year.

The government warned that violators of the social distancing rules will face a fine of up to 3 million won (US$2,700).

The government also shut down ski resorts and popular venues for watching the sunrise on New Year's Day to slow the spread of the virus during the Christmas and New Year's holiday season.

On Friday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun called on health authorities and local governments to respond "strictly" to violations of social distancing rules, noting some restaurants and bars entertained guests after 9 p.m. after locking their doors and switching off signs.

"The vast majority of the nation is faithfully adhering to the government's antivirus measures despite the inconvenience and pain they entail, but if a few cheat for their own gains, it is difficult to expect results from participating in the antivirus measures," Chung said during a government COVID-19 pandemic response meeting.

A medical worker waits for citizens coming to take new coronavirus tests at a free temporary screening center in front of Seoul Station in the city center on the Christmas holiday, Dec. 25, 2020, when South Korea recorded the highest daily surge of COVID-19 infections with 1,241 new cases. (Yonhap)
People line up to take new coronavirus test at a screening center set up at the National Medical Center in central Seoul exclusively for Korean and foreign travelers departing for overseas on Dec. 25, 2020, when South Korea recorded the highest daily surge of COVID-19 infections with 1,241 new cases. (Yonhap)

South Korea has been applying Level 2.5 social distancing rules, the second highest of the five-tier system, in the greater Seoul area, home to half of its 51.6 million population, and Level 2 rules in the rest of the country.

Health authorities have said they are aiming to contain the current wave of the pandemic without raising virus curbs to Level 3 on concerns over the impact on the economy.

The authorities plan to decide Sunday on whether to raise the country's social distancing guidelines to the highest Level 3, Yoon said.

Of the newly identified local infections, 550 cases were reported in Seoul and 257 cases in Gyeonggi Province that surrounds the capital. Incheon, west of Seoul, reported 55 more cases.

Other municipalities reported new infections, with South Chungcheong Province adding 79 cases and North Gyeongsang Province reporting 67 new cases.

Public health officials in Santa Claus outfits wait for people coming to get tested for COVID-19 at a screening center in Seoul on Christmas Eve on Dec. 24, 2020. (Yonhap)

South Korea reported 17 additional deaths from COVID-19, raising the death toll to 773. The fatality rate was 1.41 percent.

The number of seriously or critically ill COVID-19 patients reached 311, compared with 291 from the previous day.

The public health agency said the total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 38,048, up 623 from the previous day.

Meanwhile, South Korea reported 25 imported cases, increasing the total to 5,425.

Of the newly imported cases, 15 were South Koreans and 10 were foreigners. They came from the United States, the Philippines, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Poland, Finland, Democratic Republic of Congo and Niger.

A major shopping street is almost vacant in Seoul on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2020, amid fears of the coronavirus. (Yonhap)


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