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Seoul area to keep intense social distancing indefinitely: minister

Korea counts 56 more coronavirus cases, mostly in Seoul area

Heatlh Minister Park Neung-hoo (Health Ministry)
Heatlh Minister Park Neung-hoo (Health Ministry)

Seoul and its satellite cities will practice stringent social distancing indefinitely, Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo said in a press briefing Friday.

This is an extension of measures put in place for two weeks starting May 29, which restored the physical distancing restrictions in the Greater Seoul area. The partial reversal came about three weeks since Korea eased its nationwide physical distancing guidelines on May 6 on the back of a flat curve.

Some 8,000 public facilities in the capital and the surrounding areas were shut down accordingly and an advisory was issued to citizens, urging them to adhere to health precautions and refrain from nonessential gatherings and outings.

But the metropolitan region continues to see scattered flare-ups despite nearing the end of two-week intense distancing.

Park said between May 29 and Thursday, 96.4 percent of locally transmitted cases were in and around Seoul.

To boost compliance and facilitate tracing, the government has implemented QR code-based visitor logs in venues deemed to carry a high risk of contagion such as bars, nightclubs and karaoke lounges from Wednesday.

The minister said there would be “no tolerance” for quarantine breaches and other violations of health orders.

In the meeting of Central Disaster Management Headquarters held the same day, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said increasing number of new cases could not be traced to their source of infection.

“Seoul area’s coronavirus spread is alarming with outbreaks occurring at small businesses and personal gatherings where monitoring is scarce,” he said.

Care facilities for elderly are coming under scrutiny following series of active outbreaks.

Fourteen were diagnosed at a nursing home in Dobong, northern Seoul, as of Friday morning. Another in Gwangju, a city south of Seoul, saw ten residents and staffers infected. In Anyang, Gyeonggi Province, four tested positive with more undergoing testing.

Speaking to reporters, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Director Jung Eun-kyeong said Friday that the proportion of severe or critical cases were on the rise as the number of older patients increased.

“People aged 65 or older in particular are advised to avoid contact with others,” she said.

Closed settings with poor ventilation were prone to transmissions, she said. Dining, exercising and singing were also risky group activities that need to be put off if possible.

In the 24 hours ending Thursday at midnight, Korea confirmed 56 cases, 42 of them in Seoul and the adjacent areas of Gyeonggi Province and Incheon. One was reported in Daegu. Thirteen were imported cases.

One more person died, putting the death toll at 277. The cumulative total now stands at 12,003.

By Kim Arin (