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New cases dip, but continued vigilance urged over community spread

Eight facilities designated as high risk for COVID-19 obligated to implement digitized visitor registry

A long line forms at a COVID-19 testing center last Friday in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province, where the Coupang logistics center, which is at the center of the latest outbreak here, is located. (Yonhap)
A long line forms at a COVID-19 testing center last Friday in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province, where the Coupang logistics center, which is at the center of the latest outbreak here, is located. (Yonhap)

South Korea’s new cases of the novel coronavirus dropped below 30 for the first time in five days on a slowdown in infections tied to a logistics center outbreak, health authorities said Sunday.

Despite the decline in the daily virus tally, the threat of the virus has risen particularly in the capital region, which has seen cluster infections in Itaewon, a popular nightlife district in central Seoul, and Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province, according to Health Minister Park Neung-hoo.

“The overall level of danger has increased in the past two weeks. But it is still within boundaries that can be managed by the medical system. So it is not yet the time to toughen social distancing nationwide,” Park said during a daily briefing.

“There are cases in the capital region whose route of transmission remains unclear. ... The next one to two weeks will be critical in containing the virus.”

The number of confirmed patients averaged 28.9 daily between May 17-30, according to the Health Ministry.

This is 18.4 more cases daily compared to the two-week period prior to the cited time frame, though below the 50 per day threshold Korea’s medical system can control.

Concerns over community spread are still high in the heavily populated capital region in the wake of mass infections linked to the Coupang center in Bucheon.

Health authorities urged the public to maintain a safe physical distance from one another and keep their guard up against the virus.

In the 24 hours ending midnight on the night of Saturday, COVID-19 had sickened 27 more people, putting the total tally at 11,468, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The death toll stood at 270, with one additional patient succumbing to the virus, it added.

The number of new infections counted daily had spiked to a two-month high of 79 patients last week in connection to the Coupang outbreak that has so far infected 111.

The figure has since been on a downward trend, dropping to the 20s Sunday.

The Coupang outbreak has sounded the alarm on the dangers of the virus that can trigger mass infections particularly at crowded places.

Eight establishments -- karaoke bars, nightclubs, indoor group workouts and indoor concert venues that offer standing shows among others -- have been designated as facilities at high risk for the deadly contagion, Health Minister Park said.

Business owners of high-risk facilities are obligated to adapt a QR code-based digitized customer registry on top of basic guidelines such as disinfecting the venue, effective from Tuesday.

Owners and users who violate the administrative measure will be subject to a penalty of up to 3 million won ($2,440) alongside the suspension of their business, health authorities said.

Amid lingering uncertainty, some 1.7 million third and fourth graders in elementary school, eighth graders in middle school and 10th graders in high school combined are scheduled to return to school Wednesday, in the third phase of schools reopening.

The Ministry of Education was on course to reopen schools as planned, though tweaks have been made for schools in the capital and surrounding areas that have seen a sharp increase in virus patients.

Meanwhile, of the new patients, 21 were from the capital region, with 12 from Gyeonggi Province, six from Seoul and three from Incheon. Ulsan reported two cases, among others.

One of the patients in Incheon was the daughter of a worker at the Coupang center who had tested positive for COVID-19.

Seven people were released from isolation upon being declared free of the virus, totaling 10,405 survivors, according to the KCDC.

The number of people who have received virus testing reached 910,822 as of Sunday, up 7,921 from a day earlier.

Of the test-takers, 876,060 tested negative, while results for 23,294 were pending, the KCDC said.

By Kim Bo-gyung (lisakim425@heraldcorp.com)
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