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S. Korea reports 371 more COVID-19 cases, Level 2 social distancing extended by another week


Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Friday that the South Korea will maintain Level 2 social distancing rules nationwide for another week, despite growing calls for raising the level of social distancing to the highest amid the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus across the country.

The country reported 371 new COVID-19 cases Friday -- 359 locally transmitted and 12 imported -- pushing the total caseload to 19,077, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Despite calls for putting in place the highest level of social distancing -- near lockdown -- to stem the spread of the virus, Chung said that would be a last resort, citing such actions have an immense impact on society and economy.

“While the government will extend the Level 2 social distancing, we will add stronger quarantine measures,” he said at a pan-government meeting on response to COVID-19 pandemic, citing the measures to restrict operation hours and practices at cafes and restaurants.

Despite Level 2 social distancing rules in place since Aug. 23, the spread of the novel coronavirus shows no signs of slowing down as new, sporadic clusters of infections nationwide pop up across the country. Infections from unidentified sources are also a source of concerns.

Transmission routes for 19.4 percent of the new cases reported Aug. 15-27 were unidentified, according to the KCDC.

The toughest Level 3 social distancing in the three-tier system is tantamount to a lockdown, under which more businesses must be shut down, gatherings of more than 10 people banned, sports events suspended and public facilities closed. More people should work from home and students must turn even more to online learning.

Of the locally transmitted cases, the vast majority, or 284, were registered in the Seoul metropolitan area -- 145 in Seoul, 27 in neighboring Incheon and 112 in Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds the capital.

As of Friday, the accumulated number of cases in the Seoul metropolitan area was 7,200, exceeding the number cases in Daegu, 7,007, which was the epicenter of the country’s massive COVID-19 outbreak in spring.

Outside the Seoul metropolitan area, new cases were reported in all administrative regions -- 17 in Gwangju, 12 in South Jeolla Province, nine in South Chungcheong Province, eight each in Busan and Daegu, five in North Chungcheong Province, three each in Daejeon, Gangwon Province, two each in Sejong, North Jeolla Province, South Jeolla Porinve and Jeju Island, one each in Ulsan and North Gyeongsang Province.

The country also continues to report cases linked to the Sarang Jeil Church and to a massive rally held in central Seoul on Aug. 15, which is the center of the resurgence of COVID-19 here.

The number of cases traced to the Seoul-based church and the rally totaled 959 and 273, respectively, as of Thursday at noon, according to the KCDC.

Of the 12 imported cases, eight were identified while the individuals were under mandatory self-quarantine in Korea, with the other four detected during the quarantine screening process at the border. Nine cases originated in Asia and three from the United States. Four of the newly diagnosed people were foreign nationals.

So far, 14,551 people, or 76.27 percent, have been released from quarantine upon making full recoveries, up 90 from a day earlier. Some 4,210 people are receiving medical treatment under quarantine. Fifty-eight people remain in serious or critical condition.

Three more people died of the coronavirus, bringing the death toll to 316. The overall fatality rate amounted to 1.66 percent.

The country has carried out 1,887,717 tests since Jan. 3, with 50,711 people awaiting results as of Friday.

By Ock Hyun-ju (