New Covid-19 virus cases in the greater Seoul area slowed down on Wednesday, only to be offset by rising infections in provincial regions, notably the southwestern city of Gwangju.
Korea reported 50 new Covid-19 cases, including 28 local infections, raising the total to 13,293 as of midnight Wednesday, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
New virus cases in the greater Seoul areas, which had accounted for most of the recent community spreads, dropped down to seven. It was the first time in 17 days that the Seoul metro region recorded a daily infection below 10.
Replacing Seoul as a new hotspot was Gwangju, some 330 km southwest of the capital city. Of the 28 local infections, Gwangju recorded 15, more than half of the new cases reported Thursday.
While many cluster infections in other areas were tied to churches, those in Gwangju are linked to a Buddhist temple. More recently, infections from a door-to-door business have also spread throughout the city.
Faced with a continuous rise in cases, the South Jeolla provincial government, in which Gwangju is located, lifted the region's social distancing to Level 2 from Monday.
However, even the stricter restrictions do not seem to have much impact on containing the virus as new virus cases in the city have soared to 111 in less than two weeks.
"The infection routes of most of the new cases in Gwangju are still unknown," said Vice Minister of Health and Welfare Kim Gang-lip, who doubles as general coordinator in the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters. "Still, the upgraded social distancing measures have reduced the city's citizens' movement by 60 percent."
If the citizens abide by the quarantine procedures, the city will be able to block massive infections in the future, Kim added.
In response to the stricter regulations on religious gatherings, meanwhile, some church leaders and believers expressed discontent.
Earlier the week, the government made it mandatory for religious facilities to keep a log of visitors and worshippers, and forbid various small meetings and meals after services, as religious gatherings-tied cases are on a steady rise.
After the announcement, churchgoers flocked to the Cheong Wa Dae petition post, demanding that the government withdraw the mandatory measure. As of 11 a.m. Thursday, about 250,000 Christians signed the petition, exceeding the minimum 200,000 required for inducing an official answer from the presidential office.
Religious associations also joined in and blasted the government's new regulation.
"The United Christian Churches of Korea (UCCK) and the National Council of Churches in Korea have already urged followers to refrain from small meetings and summer classes in churches. Still, the government's recent announcement is a bureaucratic response to avoid blame," the UCCK, one of the biggest associations of Protestant churches in South Korea, said in a statement.
The government should immediately withdraw this measure and present voluntary quarantine guidelines for churches, the religious association said.
The nation reported two additional deaths raising the death toll at 287, while hospitals released 49 patients from quarantine after a full recovery, increasing the number of cured patients to 12,019, with 987 people getting treatment.
The total number of imported infections has reached 1,768, as 22 new cases were reported on Thursday.
Korea has tested 1,371,771 suspected patients since Jan. 3. Among them, 1,334,566 people tested negative with the other 23,912 awaiting results.
<© Korea Biomedical Review, All rights reserved.>