New virus cases jump back to above 200; tougher measures eyed in greater Seoul area

SEOUL, The number of daily new virus cases in South Korea bounced back sharply Tuesday as infections linked to churches in the capital city showed no signs of a slowdown. The country may adopt tougher virus-preventive measures in the greater Seoul area currently dogged by a series of cluster infections.
The country reported 246 more COVID-19 cases, including 235 local infections, raising the country’s total caseload to 15,761, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).
It marked a three-digit number for the fifth straight day, following 166 more infections on Saturday and 103 Friday.
On Sunday, South Korea reported a whopping 279 new daily infections, marking the first time since early March that the figure surpassed 200. The figure fell back to 197 on Monday.
The country added nearly 1,000 cases over the past five days.
Of the newly identified local infections, a total of 131 cases were reported from the capital city of Seoul, and 52 from the surrounding Gyeonggi Province.
Incheon, located just west of Seoul, added 18 more cases.
Infections tied to the Sarang Jeil Church in northern Seoul have spiked to 319 as of Monday noon, while cases linked to the Woori Jeil Church in Yongin, south of Seoul, increased to 131.
A total of 13 patients were confirmed from a Starbucks store in Paju, north of Seoul, on Monday, raising the total number of cases tied to the coffee shop to 42.
South Korea, which never imposed a draconian lockdown, has been seeking to curb the spread of the virus while maintaining most business and daily activities.
Due to the spike in the new virus cases, however, health authorities decided to raise the level of social distancing in Seoul and the neighboring areas by one notch to Level 2 in the three-tier system for two weeks from Sunday.
The scheme will still allow South Koreans to maintain most of their daily routines, but gatherings of more than 100 people will be banned. Sports events will be banned from having spectators.
Health authorities said they may further adopt tougher social distancing rules unless the pace of new infections in the Seoul metropolitan area, which houses around half of the nation’s population, reaches a manageable level this week.
“The current situation is so grave that we have to consider adopting tougher (infection preventive) measures.” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said in a pan-government meeting on infection prevention. “Anyone in the capital city and neighboring areas can be infected, and it is worrisome that the virus outbreak may spread across the country.”
Should the highest level of distancing rules be imposed, gatherings of more than 10 people will be banned. South Koreans will then face the most intense restrictions in their everyday lives since the country detected its first COVID-19 case on Jan. 20.
Health authorities are concerned over the latest spike in the number of cases traced to churches, as it resembles that of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a minor religious sect, which was the epicenter of the country’s first wave of the virus outbreak.
Thousands of followers, most of whom were from its branch in the southeastern city of Daegu, were infected with the virus. Due to the cluster infections, the country’s new daily virus cases peaked at 909 on Feb. 29.
South Korea, meanwhile, reported one more death, raising the toll to 306.
The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 13,934, up 17 from the previous day.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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