Korea’s new virus cases fell below 40 on Sunday from above 50 in the two previous days, but officials called for continued social distancing to stem further cluster infections, mainly in Seoul and its vicinity.
The nation reported 38 new Covid-19 cases, including 33 confirmed in the Seoul metro region, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday. There were no additional fatalities, keeping the death toll at 273 at midnight Sunday. Eleven more patients were recovered, increasing the total to 10,563. The nation has tested 1,018,214 people since Jan. 3.
Despite the slowdown of new cases, the public health authorities remained on high alert because of the rise in the number of “patients in the dark” – those infected from unknown routes. The share of these out-of-route patients is nearing 10 percent, almost double the controllable level of 5 percent.
The proportion of silent spreaders and cluster infections in the greater Seoul area has been two distinct features since the nation shifted from social distancing to everyday life quarantine system slightly more than a month ago.
“Citizens’ voluntary participation in social distancing is far more important than health authorities’ diagnostic tests,” Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo said in the daily task force meeting on Monday. “The nation can ill afford to ease its tension, as cluster infections continue to occur at places beyond the administrative reach, such as small religious gathering and the sales events held by unlicensed door-to-door vendors.”
Epidemiological experts agreed, expressing their concerns about slackening tension.
“The outbreaks of Covid-19 patients in the Seoul metro region can hardly be said to be on a 'safe' level,’” said Professor Choi Won-suk of Korea University Ansan Hospital. "It is especially worrisome that the number of patients with unidentified infection path is increasing.”
Amid the lingering concerns about cluster infections in and around the capital city, the Education Ministry pushed ahead with the fourth- and last-phase of school reopening on Monday, allowing the remaining 1.35 million students to go to school. Korea’s 5.95 million elementary and secondary school students are now taking offline classes 99 days later than usual.
Except for high school seniors, however, each school is keeping only one-third to two-thirds of its total students on campus a day. Besides, 516 schools remain closed because of infection risks, and 99 percent of them are in Seoul and its surrounding area.
Schools will continue to carry out intensive sanitary measures, including separated lunches and a mix of online and offline classes.
One of the groups hit hardest by the Covid-19 outbreak in Korea is sexual minorities because the cluster infections in the greater Seoul area originated from Itaewon, the multicultural nightlife district in the capital city. Some lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people are complaining about increased discrimination and isolation from the rest of society.
Some said they are nervous they could face “forced outing” through online media such as social networking services.
One homosexual, who did not wish to be identified, said that sexual minorities had to delete personal profiles and fear coerced coming out as people began to install and use applications to find the minorities near them.
“Sexual minorities might be experiencing difficulties amid social stigma and prejudice as people’s attention focused on Covid-19,” said Lee Jong-geol, secretary-general of “Between Friends,” a gay men’s human rights advocacy group.
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