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Daily virus cases below 1,000 for 2nd straight day

Concerns persist as virus rages through jails, hospitals

Medical staff conduct sample tests at a temporary screening inspection center at Banpo Sports Complex in Seocho-gu, Seoul on Tuesday.
Medical staff conduct sample tests at a temporary screening inspection center at Banpo Sports Complex in Seocho-gu, Seoul on Tuesday.
The number of new daily confirmed cases of coronavirus in South Korea stayed below 1,000 for a second consecutive day, officials said Wednesday. Concerns still remain though, as the virus is spreading quickly in jails and hospitals where social distancing is nearly impossible.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said the number of people who tested positive for the novel coronavirus was 840 on Tuesday, up by 125 from the previous day.

Of the new confirmed cases, 809 were locally transmitted, up 137 from the day prior. A majority of infections were from the Seoul metropolitan area, with 263 cases in Seoul, 269 in Gyeonggi Province and 35 in Incheon. The remaining 31 were imported cases, of which 16 were foreigners.

The number of severely ill patients increased by 25 from the previous day to 411. A further 20 people have died, bringing the death toll to 1,007.

Although the nation reported triple-digit numbers of new cases on most days in the new year except Friday and Monday, it is too early to say the spread is on the decline, health experts say. This is because concerns remain high about the possibility of mass outbreaks in vulnerable facilities such as hospitals and correctional facilities.

The Ministry of Justice said on the day an additional 66 confirmed cases were reported at Dongbu Detention Center in eastern Seoul, after the center tested 429 staff members and 338 prisoners a day earlier.

The cumulative number of confirmed cases in jails and prisons nationwide stood at 1,191 as of 8 a.m. on Wednesday, with 1,150 inmates and 41 guards.

The ministry has vowed to do its best to strengthen on-site inspections to prevent further infections in the future. One KF-94 mask will be provided to each inmate every day, and staff at the correctional facilities will be tested once a week to prevent the inflow of COVID-19.

Hospitals have also become hotbeds for the infectious disease.

Mental health facilities nationwide reported 339 confirmed cases in a total of six hospitals since last month. Major nursing hospitals in 11 locations reported a total of 1,101 confirmed cases.

As for psychiatric hospitals, the government plans to implement measures to decentralize confirmed patients and people who have come in contact with the patients.

People with asymptomatic or mild cases will be quickly transferred to exclusive treatment beds in psychiatric institutions while those with severe and underlying diseases will be transferred to hospitals dedicated to infectious diseases, the KDCA said.

Currently, the National Center for Mental Health, Masan Hospital and St. Mary’s Hospital in Eumseong are in operation for asymptomatic or mild cases. Cheongju Medical Center is preparing 60 beds for patients with severe cases or underlying diseases.

Meanwhile, with a cold spell expected by the end of this week, the operating hours of test centers for coronavirus infections in the Seoul metropolitan area will be temporarily shortened. The government said Wednesday it would shorten the operating hours to 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for four days from Thursday to Sunday.

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heraldcorp.com)
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