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Three-digit daily viruses for a week, raising fears about 2nd round
  • By Shim Hyun-tai
  • Published 2020.08.20 14:56
  • Updated 2020.08.20 14:56
  • comments 0

Korea’s daily Covid-19 cases remained at three-digit figures for the seven consecutive days on Thursday, as church-originating infections spread not just to the Seoul metro region but the rest of the country.

The nation reported 288 new virus cases – 276 local infections and 12 foreign arrivals -- raising the cumulative caseload to 16,346 as of midnight Wednesday, the Korea Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention said. The daily tally continued to threaten the 300 range with the seven-day total reaching 1,576. The cumulative caseload in the greater Seoul area, including Gyeonggi Province and Incheon, has passed the 5,000 mark.

Confirmed patients continue to appear throughout Korea as the cluster infections starting at Sarang Jeil Church in northern Seoul have spread the virus. Group infections were also confirmed at a massive rally held in central Seoul over the weekend, throwing the health authorities into an emergency.

The cluster infections from the rally, organized by the controversial church led by an ultra-right pastor, Jun Kwang-hoon, have spread to at least 114 other religious facilities, medical institutions, and nursing homes. Infections linked to the church could rise higher in regions outside of the capital area. Health officials said that 389 people could not be reached.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government and the police department are trying to figure out 600 people whose identities could not be confirmed.

As the health authorities cannot estimate the number of people who contacted the confirmed patients, it is becoming increasingly difficult to break the chain of infections via epidemiological investigations, the officials said.

Previously, the health authorities could limit the infected people and conduct a follow-up investigation, as were the cases with the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in February and March. However, this method is virtually impossible to use in the recent mass outbreak. The health authorities said the infections starting at Sarang Jeil Church and the Gwanghwamun rally on Aug. 15 would lead to a more severe crisis than the outbreaks from Shincheonji Church in the southeastern city of Daegu.

Given the incubation period of Covid-19, the effect of the Level 2 social distancing policy introduced on Wednesday in the Seoul metro region is likely to show the impact in late August or early September. If the virus spread from the church could not be contained within this week, however, the nation would fall into the second viral wave.

The officials regarded the massive rally on the National Liberation Day led by the right-wing church as the greatest risk factor in preventing Covid-19 infections and requested active testing to confirm infections.

“The citizens who attended the rally on Aug. 15 and those who attended worship services, lectures, and meetings at Sarang Jeil Church, are urged to visit a screening clinic and take a test,” Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo said.

These screening clinics are strained due to the recent outbursts of virus cases in Seoul. The number of tested people stood at 8,572 a day on Tuesday but doubled to 18,022 Wednesday.

“The nation faces a desperately dangerous situation as the increasing infections in Seoul and its vicinity can spread to the rest of the country,” Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said.

Fifty-seven more people recovered, pushing the number of cured patients to 14,063, with 1,976 receiving treatment, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said. The death toll increased to 307 as one patient died of Covid-19 on Wednesday. The nation has tested 1,734,083 suspected patients since Jan. 3.


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