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Greater Seoul remains jittery over sporadic, silent spreads
  • By Shim Hyun-tai
  • Published 2020.06.04 14:38
  • Updated 2020.06.05 16:07
  • comments 0

Korea’s new Covid-19 cases have remained between 30 and 40 over the past few days, as small, sporadic infections linked to religious gatherings continued in Seoul and its vicinity.

The number of newly confirmed cases is going up and down each day, depending on the circumstances. Still, the public health authorities have failed to seize the spread. The health officials could not let their guard down, mainly because church members’ infections began to spread to their families and acquaintances, increasing the number of secondary infection cases.

Out of the total 39 new virus cases reported on Thursday, 36 were local infections, all of which occurred in the Seoul metro region, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The cumulative caseload rose to 11,629 as of midnight Wednesday. The death toll remained unchanged at 273.

Thirty-two more people were recovered, lifting the number of cured patients to 10,499. Currently, 857 people are under treatment, and the nation has tested 973,858 people, marking the confirmed rate of 1.2 percent.

The number of new Covid-19 cases had been on the decline during the final four days of last month, from 79 to 27, as infections from entertainment places in Itaewon, Seoul, and a large logistics center west of the capital city began to slow down. Since early June, however, infections at newly planted churches in the greater Seoul area, which is home to about half of Korea’s population of 50 million, pushed the number again to 30-40 a day.

According to the KCDC, the number of religious gathering-linked infections in Seoul, Incheon, and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province has totaled 66 involving 30 churches. Among them, secondary infections numbered 33, or 52 percent of the total. The accumulated number of new virus cases in the Seoul metro region has risen to 2,059, about 18 percent of the nation’s total.

“Recently, there has been a series of small, sporadic infections reported in the greater Seoul area,” Vice Minister of Health and Welfare Kim Kang-lip said. “If the infections that started at small gatherings spread to their families and friends, and further to the community, they could lead to far larger mass infections.”

The health authorities have conducted an epidemiological investigation into the metro area but failed to find the exact sources of infection.

“Considering that cluster infections broke out at the logistics center amid the lingering club-linked cases, there is a possibility that the virus might have already spread considerably within the community,” said Professor Eom Joong-sik of Gachon University Gil Hospital. “However, the exact scale is hard to know.”

Despite the risks, the government pushed ahead with its third-phase reopening of schools on Wednesday and plans to let all elementary and secondary school students attend their schools next Monday. It has told school authorities to take precautionary measures, including staggered lunches, adjusting student attendance, reduced resting time, and a mix of online and offline classes.

On Wednesday, however, about 830 kindergartens, elementary, middle, and high schools, 4 percent of the nation's total, remained closed for fear of infection risks.


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