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‘Don’t visit hometowns’: PM appeals to people amid coronavirus fears

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Sunday appealed to South Koreans to refrain from visiting their hometowns during the upcoming Chuseok holiday to help rein in the coronavirus. He also renewed warnings against holding illegal rallies.

The country’s virus fight is to be put to the test during the extended holiday, which runs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4, when a mass movement of people could heighten the risk of community spread of COVID-19. The country recorded double-digit figures in daily new COVID-19 cases for the second consecutive day Sunday.

“I sincerely ask (everyone to) refrain from visiting (your) hometowns to ensure the safety of (your) parents and the elderly over this year’s Chuseok holiday,” Chung said, addressing the people of Korea. “We should not forget that we are in a quasi-war situation.”

Referring to the Aug. 15 rally in central Seoul and to a Seoul-based church, which were at the center of the recent resurgence of the coronavirus in the country, Chung vowed to sternly respond to any attempts to hold rallies in violation of antivirus rules.

Those taking to the streets for rallies could face arrest, and those participating in “drive-thru” rallies could have their driver’s licenses suspended, he added. Some conservative groups are planning to hold anti-government rallies on National Foundation Day, which falls Oct. 3.

Korea added 95 more COVID-19 cases -- 73 locally transmitted and 22 imported -- in the 24 hours ending Saturday at midnight, pushing up the total caseload to 23,611, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

The decline in new cases, however, might not mean that the virus situation is under control, given that fewer COVID-19 tests are carried out over the weekend.

The government faces challenges in its fight against the coronavirus as clusters of infections continue to pop up from workplaces, nursing homes and day care centers largely in the Seoul metropolitan area, home to nearly half of the country’s population.

A new cluster of infections was reported from cleaners working at Sindorim Station in Seoul. The initial patient tested positive Friday, with seven others sickened so far. They had their masks on while working, but had meals together without masks on in an enclosed rest area inside the underground station.

Sources of infection for 21.1 percent of the new cases reported from Sept. 14-27 remain unknown, which puts pressure on the government to find out if the virus is spreading undetected in the community.

Starting Monday, tougher coronavirus restrictions will be put in place in some areas.

During the period of Sept. 28 to Oct. 11, designated as a special quarantine period, Level 2 social distancing rules will remain in place across the nation, with gatherings of more than 50 people indoors or 100 people outdoors prohibited and sports events held without spectators.

In the Seoul metropolitan area, 11 types of high-risk businesses, including nightclubs and karaoke rooms, will not be allowed to operate. Tougher measures will be imposed on cafes, restaurants, cinemas and more. Outside the capital region, five types of high-risk facilities are to be shut down for a week.

Korea reported triple-digit gains in numbers of new cases for 37 days in a row dating to Aug. 14 due to mass infections linked to the Seoul-based church and the Aug. 15 rally. The daily tally has hovered around 100 for the past week.

Of Sunday’s locally transmitted cases, the vast majority were in Greater Seoul -- 33 in Seoul, nine in neighboring Incheon and 18 in Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds the capital. Outside the Seoul area, six cases were reported in North Gyeongsang Province, three in Busan, two in North Chungcheong Province, and one each in North Jeolla Province and South Chungcheong Province.

Of the 22 imported cases, 11 were identified while the individuals were under mandatory self-quarantine in Korea, with the other half detected during the quarantine screening process at the border. Eighteen came from elsewhere in Asia, including six from Uzbekistan. There were three from Europe and one from the United States. Thirteen of the imported cases involved foreign nationals.

The number of COVID-19 patients in serious or critical condition was 124 as of Sunday.

Two more people died from the virus, bringing the death toll to 401. The overall fatality rate stands at 1.7 percent.

So far, of the 23,611 people confirmed to have contracted the new coronavirus here, 21,248 have been released from quarantine upon making full recoveries, up 82 from a day earlier. Some 1,962 people are receiving medical treatment under quarantine.

The country carried out 6,172 tests in the past day, with a total of 2,296,517 tests done since Jan. 3. Some 18,878 people were awaiting results as of Sunday.