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Prime minister urges tougher penalties for coronavirus breaches

Health Ministry spokesperson Son Young-rae speaks during a press briefing Tuesday morning. (Health Ministry)
Health Ministry spokesperson Son Young-rae speaks during a press briefing Tuesday morning. (Health Ministry)

South Korean officials on Tuesday called for tougher penalties for noncompliance with coronavirus precautions as cases have started rebounding.

Korea added 38 more patients with COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, in the past 24 hours ending Monday midnight.

Of the 35 locally transmitted cases, 33 were in the Greater Seoul area -- which includes Gyeonggi Province and Incheon -- with one each in South Chungcheong Province and South Gyeongsang Province. Three had arrived from abroad.

Scattered outbreaks continue to threaten a new surge in the metropolitan region.

In Gwangmyeong, Gyeonggi Province, six residents of a shelter for the elderly have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Health officials believe the shelter’s first patient contracted the disease after attending a Sunday service at a church in nearby Yongin that is linked to at least 19 cases.

At a high school in the northern Seoul district of Jungnang, 759 students and faculty members underwent testing Monday, with all returning negative results. A senior there tested positive Sunday after visiting a theme park in Jamsil, southern Seoul, on Friday. But in a second round of testing conducted Monday, she tested negative.

The average daily count of new cases jumped over fourfold in the past month from April 26-May 9’s 8.7 to 39.6 between May 24 and Saturday. Seoul and its satellite cities accounted for 86.3 percent of the 554 patients reported in the last two weeks.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun convened an emergency Cabinet meeting Tuesday morning to outline a response to outbreaks in and around the capital.

“Driving the community spread are protocol breaches that are making efforts of the majority of Koreans go to waste. This can no longer be tolerated,” Chung said.

Laws on infectious disease control will be amended to increase penalties for instances of violations, he added.

Health Ministry spokesperson Son Young-rae said in a briefing that local governments had carried out on-site inspections at 21,151 religious facilities and nightlife establishments across the country on Monday. The 304 found to have violated safety codes were given administrative orders.

As of 6 p.m. Monday, the number of individuals under home quarantine reached 41,917. Of those, 9,876 were linked to local transmissions and 32,041 to overseas travel.

Three people who broke quarantine orders on Monday were reported to police.

Police have so far investigated 707 people who breached the infectious disease control laws, and referred 282 of them to the prosecution. Around 273 police agencies and stations nationwide have installed COVID-19 crackdown teams that together comprise 8,559 officers.

Korea’s cumulative total now stands at 11,852. Some 89.3 percent -- 10,589 -- have been released from care upon recovery, and 989 are being treated in isolation.

The overall death rate stands at 2.3 percent, numbering 274.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)

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