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COVID-19 deaths surpass 200; 53 more infections reported


South Korea’s death toll from the novel coronavirus rose above 200 on Wednesday, with patients aged 80 or older making up the largest proportion of the deceased.

After seeing fewer than 50 new infections for two consecutive days, new cases inched up 53 from the previous day, bringing the total to 10,384 as of Wednesday at 12:01 a.m., according to figures from the Korea Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

There were 202 virus-related deaths as of Wednesday morning, including the first COVID-19 death in Seoul, alongside two deaths at a troubled nursing home in Daegu, the KCDC said.

“Korea reported its 200th death yesterday, and as health authorities we need to take note of the continual rise in mortality rate,” said Vice Health and Welfare Minister Kim Kang-lip during daily virus status briefing.

“Unlike the rate of recovery (65.2 percent) … the mortality rate among those aged 80 or older has passed 20 percent. Minimizing the effect and deaths of these patients is an important task for all of us in our fight against COVID-19.”

He added that social distancing is the “sole vaccine and treatment that shows clear efficacy,” as scientists and researchers race to find a cure for the virus.

As of Wednesday, Korea had an average virus mortality rate of 1.9 percent, according to figures released by the KCDC.

That number shoots up to 20.8 percent for patients in their 80s or older, which equates to about 1 in 5 patients in the age bracket unable to make it through the dangerous contagion.

The mortality rate for patients in their 70s stands at 8.6 percent, with those in their 60s at 2.06 percent and 50s at 0.6 percent, government figures showed.

A 44-year-old lung cancer patient in Seoul died Tuesday after contracting the virus in the city’s first COVID-19 death, according to Mapo-gu district authorities.

He had contracted the virus through his spouse, who worked at a call center in Guro-gu, which has become the largest infection cluster in the capital area with some 165 cases so far.

A district official said staff at the Mangwon-dong community service center are to handle the funeral process, as his spouse and two children have also tested positive.

With health officials on edge over the possibility that a second wave of infections could erupt at one of the city’s many crowded places, an inspection guideline for facilities deemed highly susceptible to virus spread is to be introduced by the end of the week.

Facilities frequently accessed and occupied by the elderly and patients with respiratory problems, including nursing homes, religious facilities and mental health wards, have been classified as high risk for the virus.

At least one person is to be designated at each location to check for entrants displaying symptoms of the virus, health authorities said.

Seoul’s mayor ordered bars, nightclubs and other entertainment establishments to close until April 19, after a bar employee at an establishment in Gangnam was diagnosed with the virus, sparking fears of mass infections.

Meanwhile, 82 people have made a full recovery, pushing the number of people declared virus-free to 60,776, or a recovery rate of 65.2 percent, according to the KCDC.

Of the newly confirmed virus patients, 21 were from the capital region of Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and Incheon, followed by a combined 12 in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province.

By Kim Bo-gyung (