Korea's combat against the coronavirus pandemic is turning into a long-term battle, as the nation fails to stem local cluster infections accompanied by a spike in imported cases.
The nation reported 49 new infections on Friday, raising the total to 12,306, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thirty-two were local infections -- 26 in the greater Seoul area and the other six in Daejeon, another metropolis some 160 km south of the capital city, where 23 cases were found in the past five days.
Imported infections also rose back with the health authorities confirming 17 additional imported cases, raising the total to 1,396.
No fatalities were reported, holding the death toll at 280. The number of people released from quarantine after full recovery totaled 10,835, up 35 from the previous day. The nation has tested about 1.15 million suspected patients since Jan. 3.
Most of the new virus cases came from the Seoul metro region and Daejeon.
Cases traced to Richway, a multi-marketing door-to-door retailer, reached 180 as of midnight on Thursday. At the same time, two more patients were linked to newly planted churches and small religious gatherings in Seoul and its vicinity, raising the total of such caseload to 119.
In early May, the government eased strict social distancing encouraged by the flattened virus curve. The number of new virus cases peaked at 900 a day in late February and plunged to a single-digit number then.
Amid the relaxed restrictions, however, a series of cluster infections began to pop up in Seoul, the western port city of Incheon and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province, home to about half of the nation’s population of 50 million, forcing the public health authorities to maintain toughened anti-epidemic measures indefinitely.
Perplexing the public health authorities is the unrelenting cases of silent spreaders –infected people with mild or no symptoms -- and those with untraceable infection routes, which have come to account for more than 10 percent of newly confirmed people, raising concerns about another wave of mass infections.
Health officials said the nation might have to go back to social distancing if the new virus cases do not fall back to a single digit.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the possibility of developing a new Covid-19 vaccine within this year.
"The agency hopes there will be about two billion doses of a vaccine against Covid-19 by the end of next year that would be reserved for priority populations," Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist at WHO said. "It's a big if because we don't have any vaccine that's proven."
However, as there are numerous vaccine candidates currently being tested, the WHO hoped at least some might prove ready for use next year, she added.
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