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S. Korea sees continued COVID-19 infections linked to churches


New clusters of infections linked to churches in the populated Seoul metropolitan area are keeping Korea’s health authorities on their toes, as the country reported 20 new infections Friday.

According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine of the new cases were locally transmitted -- six in Seoul and three in the surrounding Gyeonggi Province. The remaining 11 were imported. The total caseload rose to 14,519.

A new cluster of infections was found at a church in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province. The initial patient tested positive Wednesday, sickening seven others so far. Those found to be infected had shared a meal after attending a worship service.

Seven more cases were confirmed in connection with another church in Goyang as well. A church member who works at an elementary school tested positive Tuesday, followed by 14 others -- five family members, three church members and six colleagues -- as of Thursday. They also had meals together in an underground space without enough ventilation.

Health authorities are looking into how the virus spread to the churches.

The new clusters of infections linked to churches came only two weeks after the ban on small religious gatherings apart from regular worship services was lifted.

One more person tested positive for the virus linked to the cluster at a franchise coffee shop in southern Seoul, bringing that total to 16 related cases.

Some 69.1 percent of COVID-19 cases have come in from overseas in the past two weeks. The transmission routes for 6.1 percent of cases were unidentified during the period, according to the KCDC.

Of Friday’s 11 imported cases, five were detected during the quarantine screening process at the border, while the rest were identified while under mandatory self-quarantine in Korea. Five of them involved Korean nationals.

By country, six were from Asia – three from Iraq, one from Kazakhstan, one from Russia, one from Hong Kong – with four from the United States and one from Ethiopia.

So far, 13,543 people, or 93.28 percent, have been released from quarantine upon making full recoveries, up 42 from a day earlier. Some 673 people are receiving medical treatment under quarantine. Eighteen people remain in serious or critical condition.

One more person died of the coronavirus, bringing the death toll to 303. The overall fatality rate stood at 2.09 percent -- 2.42 percent for men and 1.81 percent for women -- as of Friday.

The country has carried out 1,613,652 tests since Jan. 3, with 17,068 people awaiting results as of Friday.

By Ock Hyun-ju (