Korea saw its biggest single-day spike in confirmed Covid-19 cases since April 9, with most of the cases linked to the latest cluster infection associated with a man who visited clubs and bars in Seoul's multicultural district of Itaewon last weekend.
The 55 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday have raised the nation's total to 10,874, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Of the 55 cases, eight were new arrivals, increasing the cumulative number of imported cases to 1,127. The death toll remained unchanged at 250, as no one died on Saturday. As of midnight Sunday, the nation tested 663,886 suspected patients. Among the tested, 642,884 people responded negatively to the test, and the other 10,128 people are waiting for the results.
The nation also released 42 more patients after full recovery from coronavirus, bringing the total number of recovered patients to 9,610.
The new spike in infection comes after the government shifted from its social distancing scheme to an everyday life quarantine on Wednesday as the country's new infections fell to single-digit figures for the past two weeks.
Due to fear over the possibly bigger outbreak, the Seoul city government on Saturday effectively suspended business at clubs and bars in the city after recent infections.
Under an administrative order that has gone into effect immediately, all clubs, bars, "room salons" and other nightlife establishments across the capital will be banned from hosting crowds of people, virtually suspending businesses at such venues.
President Moon Jae-in made a speech at Cheong Wa Dae on Sunday commemorating his third year in office, and laid out the government's goals in the post-Covid-19 era.
"We are now in the midst of a global upheaval due to Covid-19," President Moon said. "The invisible virus is changing the world and is putting the global economy in an unprecedented crisis as it has brought on huge changes in the economic and social structure of each country."
The government plans to overcome the crisis with extraordinary determination and courage and find a path to navigate through this crisis with its people wisely, Moon added.
Moon also praised the nation's effort in battling Covid-19.
"Already we have become a world leader in quarantine, and the so-called 'K-quarantine' has become the world's standard," Moon said. "With such interest amounting toward Korea, the nation's national status and pride have never been higher."
None of this would have been achievable without the solidarity and cooperation, voluntary participation of the nation citizens, quarantine authorities, and medical staff, Moon added.
However, Moon stressed that the nation should not let down its guard just yet.
"Our fight against Covid-19 is not yet over," Moon said. "The infection cluster, which recently occurred in entertainment facilities has raised awareness that, even during the stabilization phase, similar situations can arise again anytime, anywhere in an enclosed, crowded space.
While keeping enhanced alertness till the end, we must never lower our guard regarding epidemic prevention, Moon added.
"The government will meticulously handle the COVID-19 situation, keeping in mind that we are in a prolonged war," Moon said. "I ask everyone to comply with safety precautions and rules until the situation is over even after resuming daily lives."
As part of its effort, Moon said the government is planning to upgrade the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is currently under the Ministry of Health and Welfare, to an independent branch of the government.
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be upgraded to the Disease Control and Prevention Administration to strengthen its expertise and independence," Moon said. "It will be staffed with more professionals, and a local epidemic response system will be established to make up for any insufficient provincial capabilities."
Also, with the National Assembly's approval, the government plans on establishing a system for two vice ministers within the Ministry of Health and Welfare, Moon added.
"We will also push to establish hospitals specialized in treating infectious diseases and a national infectious disease research center and significantly enhance our public healthcare system and ability to respond to infectious diseases to build a safer Republic of Korea," Moon said. "These tasks are very urgent if we are to prepare for the second epidemic wave that experts predict will hit this fall or winter."
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