Mass coronavirus outbreak looms amid swelling church cluster infection

SEOUL, Concerns about infections traced to a church in northern Seoul have fanned fears of a massive outbreak, as cases continued to spread across South Korea at an alarming rate Tuesday.
The country reported 246 more new coronavirus cases, raising its total caseload to 15,761, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of new cases identified in the past five days came close to 1,000.
Among the new infections, those linked to Sarang Jeil Church ballooned to 319 in less than a week since the first case was reported on Aug. 12. With the latest figure, it has emerged as the country’s second-biggest cluster infection after the fringe religious sect Shincheonji, in which 5,214 were infected.
But the number, which includes cases identified before noon Monday, is feared to further rise. Of the 2,000, or roughly half of the church’s 4,000 members who were screened for the new coronavirus, 16 percent have tested positive.
Authorities suspect the clusterinfection has worsened as some church members were in close contact with each other, such as sleeping and eating at the church, and taking part in a mass Liberation Day rally in central Seoul.
The church’s pastor, Jun Kwang-hoon, tested positive after joining the weekend anti-government rally along with thousands of people, where they shouted slogans and sat close to one another.
Chain transmissions have already been reported in five major cities and provinces outside of the greater Seoul area. Infections have also been reported at a call center, nursing home, child care center and Severance Hospital, a major general hospital in Seoul, where members of the church visited or worked.
Authorities have started to take measures to brace against chances of another mass outbreak.
Schools in the greater Seoul area were advised to limit student numbers for four weeks starting Tuesday.
Under the plan, kindergartens, elementary and middle schools in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province have to keep the portion of students at in-person classes at one-third of the total or lower, compared with an earlier threshold of two-thirds.
For kindergartens and schools in areas that have been directly affected by the latest infections, classes will run online for the next two weeks.
In addition to tightening precautionary measures at schools, the education ministry said it plans to strengthen such policy at private sector education institutions. For cram schools with 300 or more students, which are currently categorized as high-risk facilities, the ministry plans to suspend their operations if the outbreak shows no signs of letting up two weeks from now.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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