South Korea’s health authorities on Tuesday urged members of the public to refrain from attending social gatherings as the country faces a second coronavirus winter without a vaccine, amid a rising number of cases linked to in-person gatherings and increased autumn activities.
Korea reported 88 new coronavirus cases -- 72 locally transmitted and 16 imported from overseas -- in the 24 hours ending Monday at midnight, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.
“Ahead of a full-blown winter, the coronavirus situation here is being steadily contained and controlled at a certain level. But there is always a possibility of an exponential surge in virus cases,” KDCA Deputy Director Kwon Jun-wook said at a briefing.
His warning came as a new cluster of infections was traced to a golf gathering among friends. Since the first case was reported Thursday, 30 more people had tested positive for the virus as of Tuesday after playing golf and having a meal together in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, Oct. 17.
“This winter may be the second and the last winter where we should overcome COVID-19 with only social distancing measures before a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available sometime next year,” he said.
Winter creates a favorable environment for the coronavirus to spread in the northern hemisphere, with low temperatures, increased indoor activities in enclosed spaces and other infectious disease outbreaks, he said.
“It is my honest opinion that we should refrain from having gatherings as much as possible this winter,” he said, referring to the upcoming Halloween weekend, religious events and year-end gatherings.
Authorities are particularly concerned because 80 percent of the reported cases occurred in the Greater Seoul area, home to nearly half of Korea’s population, which could lead to outbreaks in other parts of the country.
The daily case count has fluctuated around 100 for the past two weeks since the country eased antivirus restrictions. The tally climbed to 155 on Friday, the highest single-day rise since Sept. 17, then fell below 100 over the weekend and shot up to 119 on Monday.
The proportion of cases whose transmission routes were unknown was 11.4 percent for the past two weeks, according to the KDCA.
In connection with a family gathering in southwestern Seoul, 13 more people tested positive for the virus, bringing the total of related cases to 14. The first case was reported Thursday.
Additional cases are being reported from existing clusters of infections traced to sources including nursing homes, a rehabilitation hospital, a welfare facility and a swimming pool.
Of Tuesday’s locally transmitted cases, the majority were in Greater Seoul -- 24 in Seoul, 27 in Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds the capital, and two in Incheon. Six cases were posted in Gangwon Province, with five each in South Gyeongsang Province and Daejeon, two each in Incheon and South Jeolla Province, and one in North Chungcheong Province.
Korea reported 16 imported cases. Of them, 11 were identified while the individuals were under mandatory self-quarantine in Korea, with the other five detected during the screening process at the border. Three cases were from elsewhere in Asia, while six were from Europe and seven were from the United States. Of the 16 cases, 10 involved foreign nationals.
The number of COVID-19 patients in serious or critical condition here was 52 as of Tuesday.
Three more people died from the virus, bringing the death toll to 460. The overall fatality rate is now 1.77 percent.
So far, of the 26,043 people confirmed to have contracted the new coronavirus here, 23,981 had been released from quarantine upon making full recoveries, up 76 from a day earlier. Some 1,602 people are receiving medical treatment under quarantine.
The country carried out 15,323 tests in the past day, with over 2.56 million tests conducted since Jan. 3. Some 23,003 people were awaiting results as of Tuesday.
By Ock Hyun-ju (email@example.com