Korea reported new Covid-19 cases of below 300 for the fourth day on Wednesday but cluster infections tied to new hotspots in the greater Seoul area continued to spread throughout the country.
Notably, in addition to churches and anti-government rallies, large and small group infections sporadically occurred in music academies, sports facilities, and volunteer groups, and the proportion of patients with no clear path of infection continued to increase.
Health officials were additionally concerned as the number of critical and severely ill patients surged daily.
Korea reported 267 new virus cases -- 253 local infections and 14 foreign arrivals -- raising the cumulative caseload to 20,449 as of midnight Tuesday, the Korea Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention said. Since Aug. 14, the nation has reported 5,679 new local infections, accounting for 27.7 percent of the accumulated community caseload.
Of the 253 locally transmitted cases, the greater Seoul area, including Incheon and Gyeonggi Province, reported 187 while other municipalities reported additional infections, with Daegu reporting 13 cases, Daejeon, 14, and Gwangju, 10.
As the infection cases continue to increase with no sign of stopping, the public health authorities stressed that this week would be a critical juncture in the country’s effort to contain the virus under the newly implemented social distancing scheme.
“The government asks citizens to show patience and join us in the fight against Covid-19,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said. “This week will be a major turning point whether or not we can contain any future spread of the virus.”
Despite the upgraded “Level 2.5” social distancing scheme, some churches, restaurants and cafes are violating quarantine regulations, Chung pointed out.
“Please cooperate with quarantine and join forces so as not to waste the efforts of other people,” Chung said. “The upcoming Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) holiday shouldn't become another spark for the spread of Covid-19.” Chuseok, which will start at the end of this month, is one of Korea's biggest annual celebrations.
Citizens should consider quarantine as a top priority when making their holiday plans, he added.
During the meeting, Chung also urged striking doctors to end their walkout and come back to fight against the resurging Covid-19 pandemic.
Earlier the week, the Korean Intern and Resident Association (KIRA) voted in favor of continuing their indefinite walkout of its members. The trainee doctors working at general hospitals have been on strike since Aug. 21, to protest the government's medical reform scheme.
Chung expressed his regrets toward the trainee doctors’ strike, even after the government vowed to halt its plan to expand medical school quotas for the time being without any conditions, and postponed the national examination for doctors for a week.
“Please come back to patients as soon as possible and trust the promises of the government, the National Assembly, and senior doctors in the medical field,” Chung said. “There is not much time now. The later the doctors return to work, the more patients will have to suffer.”
The nation reported 14 imported cases. Seven patients were from the U.S., two from the Philippines and Indonesia, and one from Pakistan, Russia, and Ukraine.
Two more people died of Covid-19 Thursday, pushing up the death toll to 326. An additional 158 fully cured people were discharged from quarantine, increasing the total to 15,356. The country has tested 1,980,295 people since Jan. 3.
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