Korea’s new Covid-19 cases surged to the highest level in nearly two months on Wednesday as cluster inflections shifted from entertainment places to logistics centers, forcing public health authorities to consider resuming social distancing system.
The nation reported 79 newly infected patients as of midnight Wednesday, and 69 of them were local infections linked to the logistics center of Coupang in Bucheon, west of Seoul, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.
The cumulative total has reached 11,344. No one died of Covid-19 on Wednesday, maintaining the death toll at 269. Also, 45 patients recovered from the disease and pushed the number of cured people up to 10,340. Hospitals throughout the nation are treating 735 patients. Korea, with a population of 50 million, has tested 868,666 people since Jan. 3.
Health officials are concerned about continuous community spread as the virus is moving to people close to the confirmed patients who worked at the logistics center of Coupang, the nation's leading delivery firm. They estimate the number of employees and people who contacted them to be about 4,000 and are conducting tests on them.
“It looks like preventive measures against the epidemic by employees at the facility, such as wearing masks or taking a break if they get sick, have not been carried out,” Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo said during a task force meeting. “Infection routes are being diversified, moving from bars and clubs to workplaces, cram schools and karaoke rooms in the Seoul metro region.”
Epidemiological experts said that the nation has to prepare for the worst-case scenario, where the virus cases from Coupang workers begin to infect their families, including children, who started to go to school from Wednesday.
The health authorities are also on alert as the number of infected people through unknown routes is increasing daily.
Korea managed to flatten the Covid-19 infection curve early this month, and the government shifted its anti-pandemic system from social distancing to everyday life quarantine system.
As the new cases resurge and the number of “silent spreaders” – asymptomatic patients with unknown sources of infections -- rose again, not a few people, experts and ordinary people alike, are saying that the nation should return to a social distancing regime, at least in part.
Later in the day, Minister Park said that the government has decided to suspend the operation of public facilities, including training institutes, museums, public parks theaters, in the greater Seoul area until June 14 while maintaining daily life quarantine system.
"If we fail to contain spreads within the Seoul metro region by then, the nation will have to return to the social distancing system," Park said.
Amid the resurge of new Covid-19 cases, some parents are not sending their children to schools. Schools also voluntarily decided to postpone reopening.
According to the Ministry of Education, 561 out of 20,902 schools in the nation decided to remain closed to students for the time being.
"The health authorities believe that the virus is within the control of the nation’s medical system," Education Minister Yoo Eun-hye said. "If students do not attend schools in distrust of our infectious disease control system, they may be unable to receive normal education for the whole of this year having to remain content with remote classes."
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