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New cluster infections trouble health authorities amid drop in daily infection rate

Students and staff members at a high school in Seoul wait in line to undergo COVID-19 testing Monday, after a 19-year-old student tested positive over the weekend. (Yonhap)
Students and staff members at a high school in Seoul wait in line to undergo COVID-19 testing Monday, after a 19-year-old student tested positive over the weekend. (Yonhap)

South Korea’s new daily infections dropped to 38 on Monday, after hovering around 50 for a week, but health authorities warned the public to remain vigilant against community spread in the face of fresh outbreaks in the capital region.

The slight decline did not offer relief, as infections tied to a table tennis club in Seoul spiraled, while eight people at a church-run shelter for the Korean Chinese in the capital tested positive for the virus.

A high school senior, who had visited one of the biggest amusement parks in Seoul, was also diagnosed with COVID-19, sparking concerns of potential new infections.

“They weren’t wearing masks while engaged in a strenuous exercise. Also air droplets were produced in tandem with a climb in breathing rate. There were places located in the basement with poor air circulation. In such conditions, we believe there was transmission through the respiratory system,” Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director-General Jeong Eun-kyeong said at an afternoon briefing.

She stressed the importance of wearing face masks on the grounds that there was a 50 percent chance of contracting the virus when exposed to a mask-less virus patient for more than an hour.

The number of patients in connection with the table tennis club stood at 41, as of Monday, among whom one was found to have attended a church in Gyeonggi Province last month.

Korea’s accumulated virus cases came to 11,814, while the number of deaths was flat at 273, as of Monday, according to the KCDC.

Of the new patients, 33 were locally transmitted, all of which occurred in Seoul and the surrounding area, while three were confirmed at airport check points and two tested positive during self-quarantine upon arrival, it added.

“We are standing at a critical crossroad. This week will be a turning point in deciding the direction of measures to prevent the virus and students’ school life,” Yoon Tae-ho, a senior Health Ministry official, said during a briefing on coronavirus.

The high school in Seoul attended by the 19-year-old patient, who tested positive for COVID-19 after visiting Lotte World, has been temporarily shut down and some 800 students and school staff were being tested.

Health authorities have not yet confirmed a virus case among students who had direct contact with the patient.

“Given that the student has not shown a lot of virus symptoms, for now we don’t believe there have been many transmissions. She testified that she wore her mask most of the time, so we are in the process of checking surveillance footage,” Jeong said.

The student had visited Lotte World in southeastern Seoul on Friday afternoon, when some 670 visitors are believed to have used the venue.

With sporadic outbreaks occurring in populated regions and untraceable virus cases increasing, the government plans to secure 350,000 test kits for backup and health centers nationwide will stock up two-week worth of test kits, health authorities said.

Meanwhile, 11 people have fully recovered from the disease and released from isolation, putting the tally at 10,563, according to the KCDC.

Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, the initial virus hot spot here, had the most number of accumulated virus patients 6,888 and 1,383, respectively, followed by 1,012 in Seoul and 942 in Incheon, it added.

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