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Another wave of mass infections feared in capital area: authorities


Another wave of COVID-19 infections might be on the horizon, health authorities warned Tuesday, as South Korea continues to see small-scale outbreaks tied to churches, private cram schools and workplaces. 

Korea added 38 more cases of the novel coronavirus Tuesday, 37 of which were reported in Seoul, the adjacent areas of Incheon and Gyeonggi Province -- home to nearly half of the country’s population. One other case was detected at the airport, according to data by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fueled by infections tied to clubs in Itaewon, Seoul’s party district, and a logistics center in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province, community spread is happening in the metropolitan area at a speed that contact tracing struggles to keep up with, the authorities said.

“A large-scale wave of infections is feared to come in case (COVID-19) continues to spread in the Seoul metropolitan area that is populated and has a mass movement of people,” Sohn Young-rae, a senior official from the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said in a briefing Tuesday.

He called on the public to stick to social distancing rules -- such as maintaining a two-meter distance from others -- and personal hygiene -- washing hands and wearing masks, adding the country’s “everyday quarantine” scheme is now being put to the test.

Most of the virus cases reported Tuesday have been traced to church gatherings in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province. So far, a total of 45 cases are linked to the gatherings involving 23 churches, up 22 from a day earlier, since a pastor tested positive for the virus on Sunday.

Some 71 percent of the 24 patients tied to the churches were asymptomatic, which may have prompted the virus to spread more quickly.

One more case was reported in connection with a private cram school in western Seoul, bringing the total infections linked to the institute to 12.

The daily number of new infections appears to be on a downward trend after it hit a nearly two-month high of 75 on Thursday with a surge in infections linked to a logistics center run by e-commerce company Coupang in Bucheon. Infections linked to the distribution center reached 117 as of noon, up five from the previous day.

On Wednesday, 1.8 million more students -- those in the first year of high school, second year of middle school as well as third and fourth year of elementary school -- were set to go back to classrooms Wednesday as part of the county’s third phase of school reopening.

Affected by the sporadic outbreaks, a total of 534 kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools, 531 of which were in the capital area, suspended their in-person classes as of Tuesday morning, according to the Ministry of Education. This accounts of 2.6 percent of the country’s total educational institutes.

The country’s total number of infections stands at 11,541. One more patient died, with the death toll at 272 and the overall fatality rate at 2.36 percent. The fatality rate for those older is much higher -- 10.93 percent for those in their 70s and 26.65 percent for those in their 80s or over.

The total number of people who recovered and were released from quarantine is 10,446, up 24 from the previous day.

The country has carried out 939,851 virus tests so far since Jan. 3. Some 28,922 people are awaiting their results.