The public health authorities are going all out to keep the recent spike of new Covid-19 cases in Seoul and its vicinity from developing into another series of national outbreaks.
The new virus cases in the capital area – Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province -- remained around 10 a day throughout last week. Since the cluster infections break out at a logistics center west of Seoul on Monday, however, 200 out of 224 local infections have occurred in the Seoul metro region.
The health officials say the containment of spread in the greater Seoul area will be crucial for preventing the second wave of infections. As part of such efforts, they are carrying out across-the-board inspections of logistics centers and applying stricter guidelines on school attendance by elementary and middle school students.
At a daily briefing on Friday, Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo said that the health authorities are tracing infected employees of Coupang’s logistics center in Bucheon, their family members and people who contacted them.
“However, some might have already spread the virus to communities,” Park said. “The Covid-19 virus was found in the caps and shoes of the employees, meaning the workers could have transmitted the virus without knowing it.”
Nevertheless, the health officials believe tracking the people who contacted confirmed patients at the logistics center would be easier than the case of the Itaewon cluster. That is because the number is smaller, making it easier to conduct a complete inspection, and that the suspected patients are more willing to take the tests than those who visited the multicultural nightlife districts.
In a precautionary move to stem community transmission, the education ministry said it would cap the number of elementary and middle school students who attend schools to one-third of the total students, and two-thirds for high schools students.
Vice Minister of Education Park Baeg-beom said, “However, the government is not considering suspending phased school reopening and will push ahead with the third phase from June 3.
The government also decided to ease face mask purchasing system, allowing people to buy masks any day of the week and increasing the limit per purchaser from the current three to five a week for those under 18, as most teenagers will go to school from next month.
The nation reported 58 new virus cases on Friday, down from the 79 cases on the previous day. All 58 cases were confirmed in the greater Seoul area, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Preventions said. As of midnight Thursday, the accumulated total reached 11,402.
There were no additional fatalities, and the death toll remained at 269. Twenty-three more patients were recovered, pushing up the number of cured people to 10,363. Korea, with a population of more than 50 million, has tested 885,120 people since Jan. 3.
A daily average below 50 is one of the criteria for the government to maintain the everyday life quarantine system instead of returning to a far stricter social distancing regime.
As far as the Seoul metro region is concerned, however, the health authorities have decided to shut down most public facilities, including parks, museums and training institutes, until June 14. If the government fails to stabilize the situation in the Seoul metro region by then, it will seriously consider returning to social distancing, officials said.
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