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Capital area tops Daegu as Covid-19 epicenterEconomic fears keep Seoul from imposing tightest restrictions
  • By Shim Hyun-tai
  • Published 2020.08.28 14:54
  • Updated 2020.08.31 12:58
  • comments 0

Korea’s new virus cases sank below 400 on Thursday but cluster infections continued to break out simultaneously across the country, deepening the government’s worries between quarantine and the economy.

The nation reported 371 new Covid-19 cases -- 359 local infections and 12 foreign arrivals – down from 441 the previous day, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The cumulative total has reached 19,077, including 4,307 in the past two weeks alone.

Of the 359 locally transmitted cases, 284 were confirmed in the Seoul metropolitan region, home to more than half of the nation’s population of 51 million. Seoul added 145 more cases while the surrounding Gyeonggi Province and the western port city of Incheon identified 112 and 27 cases, respectively.

The accumulated number of Covid-19 cases in the greater Seoul area has reached 7,200, exceeding that of the southeastern city of Daegu.

Sarang Jeil Church, which sparked the recent chain reactions that started in Seoul and spread to the other 16 metropolises and provinces, has reported 959 Covid-19 cases. The church-linked cases also led to infections in 23 locations at the least. Besides, 273 patients have been reported from the Aug. 15 anti-government demonstrations in central Seoul with cases identified in 10 different provinces and large cities outside the capital area.

Among the newly confirmed patients, the proportion of elderly patients is increasing. The rapid increase in the number of severe Covid-19 patients over 60 is straining the already overstretched health authorities.

The nation may have to see more deaths due to Covid-19 because patients in their 60s or older occupy 92.9 percent of the total 316 deaths, according to health officials.

The shortages of medical equipment and workforce have emerged as another cause of concern, as nearly 80 percent of wards and sickbeds for Covid-19 have been filled with a few rooms and equipment left for severely ill patients. Moreover, Korean doctors and trainee doctors are now striking in protest of the government’s policy to increase the number of physicians and surgeons.

Health officials said they are preparing for every possible scenario, including the tightest social distancing measure, to flatten the rising infection curve.

The government has decided to extend the Level Two social distancing scheme for another week in the Seoul metro region. Epidemiological experts call for lifting it to the highest Level Three but officials are concerned about adverse economic effects the tightest restrictions will have on the national economy.

“Strengthening the social distancing measure to Level Three is the last card we can draw considering the effects it can bring upon our economy and society,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said.

Instead, the government will tighten up the guard against the virus by limiting the operating hours of multiuse facilities such as restaurants and cafes, in what some officials described as the “Level 2.5” social distancing.

If the current restrictions are lifted to the highest level, gatherings of 10 people or more will be banned. Not only high-risk facilities, such as clubs, but also mid-risk facilities, including movie houses, wedding halls, cafes, would be told to close doors temporarily, freezing most economic activities to a standstill.

The nation reported 12 imported cases. Three patients were from the U.S. and Indonesia, two from India and Russia, and one from Pakistan and Uzbekistan.

Three more people died of Covid-19 Thursday, pushing up the death toll to 316. An additional 90 fully cured people were discharged from quarantine, increasing the total to 14,551. The country has tested 1,887,717 people since Jan. 3.


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