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S. Korea closely watching cluster infections

South Korea reports 438 more cases, total at 5,766

By Ock Hyun-ju

Published : March 5, 2020 - 16:21

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South Korea is shifting its focus to minor clusters of coronavirus infections, so far overshadowed by the massive number of cases related to Shincheonji Church of Jesus, as the number of cases is increasing at a slower pace. 

(Yonhap) (Yonhap)

Nearly 70 percent of Korea’s coronavirus cases are classified as cluster infection cases, while 30.6 percent are sporadic with their exact infection routes being scrutinized, health authorities said Thursday.

The latest mass transmission cases were found in a nursing home in Bonghwa County, North Gyeongsang Province, with 34 people -- 24 inpatients and 10 staff members -- newly confirmed to be infected Thursday.

Of the country’s total, 59.9 percent of the cases were traced to a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu, making it the country’s largest cluster of infections.

According to data tallied Wednesday midnight by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Korea reported 438 new cases of the coronavirus and three more deaths on Thursday. The total number of infections rose to 5,766, up 488 from the previous day, and the death toll stands at 36.

So far, 36 people, mostly elderly patients with underlying illnesses, have died from COVID-19, with the overall fatality rate standing at 0.6 percent.

A total of 26 people were in a critical condition, the KCDC said.

The country released 47 more fully recovered coronavirus patients on Wednesday, pushing up the number of those discharged from quarantine to 88.

The number of people being tested for the virus stood at 21,810. The country has tested a total of 140,775 people, with 118,965 testing negative.
Of the new cases, 320 cases (73 percent) were confirmed in the southeastern city of Daegu at the heart of the country’s virus outbreak, and 87 cases (19 percent) in North Gyeongsang Province.

Nine new cases were reported in Gyeonggi Province and South Gyeongsang Province, respectively, four each in Seoul and South Chungcheong Province and two in Gangwon Province.

Gyeongsan, a city in North Gyeongsang Province that borders Daegu, has been designated as a “special management zone,” Vice Health and Welfare Minister Kim Gang-lip said at a briefing, in order to prevent community spread by detecting patients and treating them early.

Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province combined represent 90 percent of the total cases here.

Cases in Gyeongsan make up 40 percent of the province’s total. Of the new cases confirmed Thursday, 73 percent of the cases -- 65 out of 89 -- were reported there. More than half of the new cases were linked to the Shincheonji’s Daegu branch.

Daegu and Cheongdo in North Gyeongsang Province were already designated special management zones, with the government’s quarantine efforts focused on the areas.

The government conducted an administrative investigation on the headquarters of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province,

This comes amid criticism by municipalities over credibility of the list of followers provided by the church.

As the government has nearly finished health checks on the Shincheonji followers -- some 310,000 nationwide, it shifted its testing capacity to ordinary citizens in Daegu and focus on preventing further fatalities by concentrating resources on treating “high-risk groups.”

Kim cautiously said that the number of confirmed cases could begin to fall. After the number of new cases surged by 600 on Monday, it began to slow with 516 cases confirmed Tuesday and 438 Wednesday.

But the country should still be on alert, with possibilities of a second or third wave of transmission not yet detected.

Starting Monday, the government began to categorize confirmed patients in four groups according to their condition and transfer those with mild symptoms to designated state-run facilities for quarantine and treatment.

Four more treatment centers will open in South Chungcheong Province and Daegu, with an aim to accommodate 2,000 patients with no or mild symptoms by the end of this week, Kim said.

Some 1,800 confirmed patients in Daegu were in self-quarantine at their homes waiting to be hospitalized on Wednesday, while 584 patients with no or mild symptoms have been taken to community treatment centers.

The government will extend the closure of day care centers by two more weeks until March 22. It also recommended a shutdown of social welfare facilities by March 22.

Amid coronavirus fears, some 94 countries and regions are imposing travel warnings on Korea or entry bans or toughened quarantine procedures on visitors from here.

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)