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S. Korea’s virus cases continue to slow, total at 8,086


South Korea continued to see a slowdown in the pace of the novel coronavirus spread for the third consecutive day, with the total number of infections coming in at 8,086 Saturday morning, up from 107 from the same time a day earlier.

Saturday marks the third day in a row that the daily new infection tally has decreased, but authorities are on high alert as the government grapples with new clusters of infections, including a call center in Seoul’s Guro District and the country’s government complex in the administrative city of Sejong.

Some 81 percent of the country’s total cases have been linked to infection clusters, nearly 62 percent of which can be traced to the Daegu branch of the fringe religious sect Shincheonji Church of Jesus, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The cluster infection cases in Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and Sejong are being highlighted as risk factors and we are also in a situation where we should block spread of the virus from abroad,” Chung Sye-kyun said Saturday, leading a meeting on the country’s response to the virus outbreak.

Saying it is still not time to be relieved, health authorities on Saturday also called on Koreans to keep “social distancing” -- asking them to stay at home, refrain from going outside and avoid large gatherings over the weekend.

A total of 204 people were released from isolation Friday, nearly double the number of those newly infected with the virus. The number of those deemed clear of the virus is 714.

Five more people died of COVID-19 on Friday, raising the death toll to 72, according to the KCDC.

The Korea Centers of Disease Control said 63 virus patients are in critical condition.

Seoul and its surrounding Gyeonggi Province saw 13 and 15 new cases, respectively, Saturday.

In the capital’s biggest-yet cluster infection, a total of 115 -- 82 employees at a call center in the 19-story building in Guro-gu and 33 people who came into contact with them -- tested positive for the virus as of Saturday morning.

The government is yet to identify how the virus was first transmitted to the employees there.

The administrative city of Sejong, where the government’s complex housing 35 ministries and agencies are located, reported six more cases, bringing the number of infections to 39. Among them, 15 least 29 were civil servants -- 25 from the Oceans Ministry alone -- were confirmed to be infected with the virus as of Saturday afternoon.

All the passages connecting the different ministry buildings in the government complex and a rooftop garden will be shut down, health authorities said.

The source of infection remains unknown.

Of the new cases, 62 cases, or 58 percent, were reported in Daegu, the city hit hardest by the country’s virus outbreak, though the number of new infections has increased at a slower pace for the past days.

Korea, which reported the first confirmed case of the coronavirus on Jan. 20, began to see a spike in the number of new infections since Feb. 19, with most cases linked to a branch of reclusive religious sect Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu.

As the government has nearly finished testing some 310,000 followers of the Shincheonji church, the number of new infections across the country has continued to decline from 242 on Wednesday. Some 114 new cases were reported Thursday, 110 Friday and 107 Saturday.

Most of those who died of the virus were in their 60s or over with underlying illnesses, with the overall fatality rate in the country at 0.89 percent. The death rate stands at 1.4 percent for those in their 60s, 5.24 for those in their 70s and 8.75 for those in their 80s or over.

A total of 7,300 people confirmed with novel coronavirus remain in quarantine.

The number of people awaiting test results for the virus stood at 17,634. The country has so far tested 261,335 people, with 235,615 testing negative as of Friday midnight.

Amid the coronavirus fears, some 127 countries and territories imposed an entry ban or tougher quarantine procedures for those traveling from Korea.

Korea also stepped up quarantine screening for those traveling from five European countries -- Germany, France, UK, the Netherlands and Spain, requiring them to get fever checks and report their health conditions to the authorities over a 14-day period.

Such requirements have been in place for those who visited mainland China, Macao, Hong Kong, Iran and Italy.

The World Health Organization declared the worldwide coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic on Wednesday, with the virus having spread to every continent except Antarctica.

By Ock Hyun-ju (