Despite sporadic cluster infections stemming from religious meetings and other small gatherings, Korea has not reached a point to jack up its social distancing to Level 2, the public health authorities said Tuesday.
On Sunday, the government announced a new, three-level social distancing system depending on the severity of the Covid-19 outbreak. Primary criteria include the number of confirmed people daily, the percentage of new virus cases with unknown infection path, and the situations of mass outbreaks within controllable levels.
The nation is implementing Level-1 social distancing, the lowest stage in force when the new virus cases remain manageable by the medical system.
The number of new Covid-19 cases has not exceeded 50 for two weeks, a yardstick for the government to lift the social distancing scheme to Leve 2. However, Korea has recently met some other criteria to do so. For example, the share of new virus cases with unknown infection paths out of the total Covid-19 cases spiked up to 11.8 percent over the past two months. The government-set criterion for this category is 5 percent.
"Currently, the incidence of Covid-19 outbreak is seesawing," said Yoon Tae-ho, chief coordinator at the Central Disaster Management Headquarters, during the daily task force meeting. "We think the nation has not reached a point to jack up social distancing to the second stage yet."
The new virus cases have surpassed 50 during some days of the past week, but imported infections accounted for a considerable portion. Local infections stood at about 30 a day, Yoon added.
Instead of raising the alert level, the health authorities are focusing on the reinforcement of the existing quarantine guidelines, he emphasized.
Cluster infections tied to religious gatherings have become a sore thumb for the government in rooting out the virus this month.
New virus cases linked to a large Protestant church in southwestern Seoul reached 28 as of Monday, while those related to a church in Anyang, south of Seoul, reached 22. Health officials have also confirmed 12 cases linked to a Buddhist temple in Gwangju.
Authorities are also concerned about the adverse effects the higher level of social distancing will have on the overall society, including the economy.
The stricter social distancing step will inevitably result in social sacrifice," a spokesperson at the health and welfare ministry said. "We are seeing such a need right now, as the current situation remains controllable."
On Tuesday, Korea reported 43 new cases -- 23 local infections and 20 foreign cases -- raising the cumulative caseload to 12,800. Twelve of the 23 locally transmitted cases occurred in the densely populated greater Seoul area where around half of the country's 50-million population lives.
The health authorities also confirmed sporadic outbreaks throughout the country – five new cases in Daejeon, three in Gwangju, and one each in Gangwon and North Chungcheong Province.
The nation reported no additional deaths to keep the death toll at 282. Hospitals released 108 patients from quarantine after a full recovery, increasing the number of cured patients to 11,537. People under treatment also dropped to 981, recording a three-digit figure for the first time in 20 days.
Korea has tested 1,273,766 suspected patients since Jan. 3. Among them, 1,240,157 people tested negative with the other 20,849 awaiting results.
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