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Korea mired in whack-a-mole game with Covid-19
  • By Shim Hyun-tai
  • Published 2020.06.05 16:07
  • Updated 2020.06.05 16:51
  • comments 0

Korea’s fight against Covid-19 increasingly looks like a whack-a-mole game, as new cluster infections pop up in unexpected places as soon as health officials managed to contain existing hot spots.

The nation reported 39 new virus cases, including 34 local infections, on Friday, similar to a day earlier, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Following entertainment establishments, logistics centers, and churches, new cluster infections have occurred at the marketing sites of health goods targeting senior citizens in the Seoul metro region.

A man in his 70s tested positive on Tuesday after attending the event of Richway, a multilevel marketing firm selling health supplies headquartered in southwestern Seoul. There were three more confirmed cases on Wednesday and an additional eight on Thursday. Health officials said they are concerned about further infections because most of the new patients are older people.

No less worrisome is the increasing number of “patients in the dark,” or infected people from unknown routes. Until Korea shifted from social distancing to everyday life quarantine system on May 6, the share of such patients remained at less than 5 percent of the total. Over the past two weeks, however, the comparable rate jumped to nearly 9 percent as the number soared to 45 out of the total 507.

“The word we hate most is ‘silent spreaders,’” KCDC Director Jung Eun-kyong said on Thursday. “We are mostly concerned that infections with unknown paths spread to senior citizens or people with underlying diseases, causing damages to human lives.”

The nation’s overall fatality rate of Covid-19 stood at 2.34 percent as of midnight Thursday. The rate hovers below 1 percent among people under 50 but jumps to 2.68 percent among those in their 60s, 10.79 percent in the 70-somethings, and 26.4 percent among octogenarians.

Jung also expressed concerns about the rising “reproduction index.” Also called the R-value, the index refers to the number of people infected by one patient. The R-value in the greater Seoul area, home to more than half of the nation’s population of 50 million, has reached almost 1.9. An index of 2 means that one person infects two people.

“The R-value remained around 0.5-0.67 before the virus spread from nightclub clients in Itaewon, Seoul, in May. Since the outbreak in the multicultural nightlife district, however, the indexed rose to 1.2.” Jung said. “There are differences among cities and provinces, and the rate currently ranges from 1.2 to 1.89.”

The government, assessing the past month during which the nation was under eased quarantine regime, thinks the relaxed restrictions have borne some positive results except for sporadic cluster infections in Seoul, Incheon, and surrounding Gyeonggi Province.

“It is positive that people have come to observe quarantine rules in everyday life and there are not many sporadic infections except for the Seoul metro region,” said Yoon Tae-ho, general director of the Central Disasters Management Headquarters, during a daily briefing, “We have yet to decide whether to strengthen quarantine measures in the capital city and its vicinity or remain content with raising the efficiency under the relaxed restrictions.”

Meanwhile, President Moon Jae-in told the Cabinet to reconsider its plan to relocate the research agency, now under the wing of the KCDC, to the health-welfare ministry. Moon’s instruction came amid criticism about the recent organizational reshuffle, in which the ministry has allegedly beefed up its size under the pretext of upgrading the KCDC.

As of midnight on Thursday, Korea reported no new deaths, keeping the death toll at 273, and the fatality rate, at 2.34 percent. The total number of people released from quarantine after recovery stood at 10,506, marking the recovery rate of about 90 percent. The nation has tested 990,960 people since Jan. 3, up 17,102 from a day earlier.


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