Korea reported 39 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the lowest number since Feb. 20, bringing the total to 10,423, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Four more patients died of the new coronavirus, swelling the death toll to 204 as of midnight Wednesday. Medical institutions cured and discharged 197 additional patients, pushing up the cumulative number of recovered cases to 6,973.
Concerns about clustered infections continue to rise as more COVID-19 infections broke out at bars and clubs in the affluent Gangnam district and private educational institutions called hagwon.
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said Wednesday the City Hall would order the operational suspension of these entertainment places, including also room salons, until April 19, the deadline of the government’s extended social-distancing guidance.
The capital city’s decision came after some female workers at these places have been confirmed to have the coronavirus, prompting municipal health officials to conduct virus test on their customers.
Amid the delayed opening of the new school year for the nation’s elementary and secondary schools, the Education Ministry began Wednesday to send internet lectures to ninth and 12th graders, starting what officials called the “online semester.”
Many students, however, attended the online classes not at their homes but hagwon, as at least a quarter of these private tutoring institutions have been running as usual.
Medical experts have advised that the nation needs a constant infection control system as well as measures to restrict and ban the operation of these facilities as new hot spots of cluster infections leading to communal outbreaks, as were the cases with the Shincheonji Church and Guro Call Center in Seoul.
As of Wednesday, two employees of entertainment venues in Gangnam and a student at a private teaching institute in Noryangjin, Seoul, have been infected by the COVID-19 virus. More confirmed cases could rise because the nation is conducting diagnostic tests on people who contacted the confirmed patients.
“I am worried that the infections in entertainment establishment can be a possible fuse of another explosive infection,” Professor Kim Woo-joo at Infectious Disease Division of Korea University Guro Hospital said. “Mass-infection begins when an infected person is confirmed late while having close contacts in an enclosed space. The confirmed patients who were working at entertainment spots in Gangnam could have already spread the virus somewhere else.”
The upcoming opening of schools is providing another detonator for explosive spread, as young students are less eager to practice social distancing.
Experts point out that it is necessary to emphasize students to refrain from going outside and to practice social distancing even after the schools open. Beginning with ninth and 12 graders, the online classes will be expanded to the rest of elementary and secondary schools from April 16.
“I believe it is nonsense to take online classes at hagwon, instead of home, considering the internet lectures are aimed to keep students at home,” a ministry official said.
Since April 1, South Korea has implemented two-week quarantines for all passengers coming from abroad. Sixteen foreigners have been admitted to an isolation facility in Paju, north of Seoul, and two of them declared cured, according to KCDC.
As of midnight Tuesday, the nation tested 494,711 people and finished 479,202 tests. Among the tested people, 468,779 people have shown negative responses to the test, and 15,509 suspected patients are still under testing. The accumulated confirmation rate is 2.2 percent.
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