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New virus cases reach six-month high; tightest restrictions imminent
  • By Shim Hyun-tai
  • Published 2020.08.27 13:24
  • Updated 2020.08.27 17:30
  • comments 0

Korea reported new Covid-19 cases of more than 400 for the first time in six months on Thursday, as the virus spread rapidly all over the country.

The nation reported 441 new virus cases -- 434 local infections and seven foreign arrivals -- raising the cumulative caseload to 18,706 as of midnight Wednesday, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The number of newly confirmed patients was the highest in 173 days since the country counted 483 infected people on March 7 when the first epidemic broke out in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province due to the cluster infection spread from the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

The new virus cases are likely to go up further as infections tied to the Sarang Jeil Church in northern Seoul and the anti-government rally in the heart of the capital city on Aug. 15 have spread beyond the Seoul metro region to affect other large cities and provinces, including Gwangju, Gangwon Province and South Chungcheong Province.

Over the past two weeks, the cumulative number of newly confirmed patients reached almost 4,000. About 70 percent of local infections reported on Thursday occurred in Seoul and its surrounding area.

The caseload linked to Sarang Jeil Church reached 933 as of Wednesday noon, the KCDC said. The infections related to this church have spread to 23 facilities, including medical institutes and daily care centers for children.

The fear of infection is growing as new Covid-19 cases began to appear even in essential facilities, such as public bathhouses, hair shops and even apartment complexes.

Medical institutions are also distressed from the concerns about the possible shortages of equipment and workforce. According to the health authorities, the country had secured 3,260 sickbeds for Covid-19 patients as of Tuesday, but only 1,038 beds, or 31.8 percent, are left for hospitalization. The problem is worse than it looks as the infected patients are centered in Seoul metro region, the officials said.

Seoul and its nearby regions have secured 2,024 sickbeds but only 444 are available now --152 in Seoul, 263 in Incheon and 29 in Gyeonggi Province.

Even the National Assembly temporarily closed some building on Thursday after a photojournalist who had covered a ruling Democratic Party meeting tested positive the previous day. The parliament’s secretariat instructed employees to evacuate the building immediately and work at home while disinfecting the complex.

As the virus is spreading quickly throughout the nation even with the recently upgraded social distancing policy, the public health authorities have begun to discuss in earnest tightening the antivirus curbs to the highest level.

“The government, fully aware of the severity of the current situation, is considering all possibilities, including the upgrading of social distancing to Level Three,” said Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health ministry official in charge of the virus containment. “We will be swift and bold in taking necessary measures.”

If the current restrictions are elevated to the highest level, gatherings of more than 10 people will be banned. Not only high-risk facilities such as clubs but also mid-risk facilities, including cinemas, wedding halls and cafes, are advised to suspend their operations.

The nation reported seven imported cases. Three patients were from the Philippines, two from the U.S., and one from Kazakhstan and Indonesia.

One more Covid-19 patient died on Wednesday, raising the death toll to 313. An additional 93 people were recovered and discharged from quarantine, increasing the total to 14,461. The country has tested 1,869,579 people since Jan. 3.


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