The Korea Herald


Virus cases top 300 as another COVID-19 wave looms

By Ock Hyun-ju

Published : Nov. 18, 2020 - 09:38

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Citizens walk past posters on social distancing in a Seoul subway station on Tuesday. (Yonhap) Citizens walk past posters on social distancing in a Seoul subway station on Tuesday. (Yonhap)
South Korea faces a growing threat of another nationwide wave of COVID-19 infections as the country’s new daily coronavirus cases topped 300 on Wednesday, the highest number since August, with a spike in both locally transmitted and imported cases.

The country reported 313 new coronavirus cases -- 245 locally transmitted and 68 imported from overseas -- in the 24 hours ending Tuesday at midnight, according to the Korea Disease Control Agency.

Health authorities are scrambling to contain the spread of the virus nationwide as clusters of infections pop up in connection to everyday spaces such as cafes, restaurants, workplaces and indoor sports facilities, as well as hospitals and nursing homes.

Experts say Korea may be in the beginning of a third wave of infections, following the first wave in February and March stemming from a branch of a minor religious sect in Daegu and the second wave in August in connection with a church and massive rally.

Although the situation is worrisome in the sense that points of infections are becoming more difficult to determine, authorities have said a third wave is not here yet.

“Regarding the surge in confirmed patients, it is a critical moment. But I think we are not yet in the situation where we can call it the third wave of infections,” said Vice Health Minister Kang Do-tae at a briefing.

Korea’s COVID-19 daily case count exceeded 300 for the first time in 81 days on Wednesday, after reporting daily case numbers in the 200-range for four days straight. It has posted triple-digit gains in virus cases for 11 days running.

The imported cases coming in from overseas marked the highest since July 25, when the reading was 86.

To slow the spread of the virus, the government has already announced that tougher social distancing rules -- Level 1.5 -- are to be in place, effective Thursday, in the Seoul metropolitan area, home to half of the country’s population. Gatherings of 100 people or more will be banned and religious services and sporting events will be limited to 30 percent capacity, among other measures.

Of Wednesday’s locally transmitted cases, the majority were in Greater Seoul --91 in Seoul, 81 in Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds the capital, and nine in Incheon. Fifteen cases were reported in South Jeolla Province, with 12 in North Gyeongsang Province and nine each in South Gyeongsang Province and Gwangju.

The proportion of cases with unknown transmission routes has increased to 13.3 percent for the past two weeks, according to the KDCA.

The steady influx of imported cases from overseas further strains the government’s fight against the coronavirus.

Out of the 68 imported cases, 50 were detected at the border, while the other 18 were identified as the individuals were under mandatory self-quarantine in Korea. Twenty-one cases were from elsewhere in Asia, 38 came from the Americas, eight were from Europe and one came from Africa.

Fifty of those cases involved foreign nationals.

The number of COVID-19 patients in serious or critical condition here stood at 60.

Two more people died from the virus, bringing the death toll to 496, with the overall fatality rate at 1.69 percent.

So far, of the 29,311 people confirmed to have contracted the new coronavirus here, 25,937 have been released from quarantine upon making full recoveries, up 113 from a day earlier. Some 2,842 people are receiving medical treatment under quarantine. 

The country carried out 18,607 tests in the past day. A total of 42,688 people were awaiting results.

By Ock Hyun-ju (