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Caution remains high as new cases jumps back above 300

People wait in line Tuesday at a diagnostic center made near the Seoul Station in Jung-gu, central Seoul. (Yonhap)
People wait in line Tuesday at a diagnostic center made near the Seoul Station in Jung-gu, central Seoul. (Yonhap)
Local authorities remain cautious over a potential uptick in virus cases as South Korea approaches its second Lunar New Year holiday under COVID-19 pandemic.

While the daily addition of new cases has been staying comparatively low for the past week, officials are keen on preventing people from traveling across regions this week as possibilities still remain high for the virus to stay strong during and after the holiday weekend.

The government has also remained vigilant on maintaining its antivirus measures for the holiday weekend despite facing backlash from small business owners for social distancing rules in the greater Seoul area being stricter than those imposed on rest of the country.

“We ask for your participation and cooperation (with social distancing rules) for the greater good,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said in a meeting Tuesday.

“We understand the underlying emotions, but this is a decision made after comprehensively considering and reviewing the risk of transmission and social receptiveness.”

The government earlier eased its limitation on business hours outside Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. The greater capital region was ruled to maintain the limitation in concern of greater number of cases being discovered in their precincts.

Chung noted in the meeting that three out of four recently discovered COVID-19 cases were traced to the capital region. Controlling the virus situation in these regions is critical for Korea in overcoming the ongoing virus wave, he said.

“(Your) participation in the virus response will be the source of strength in flattening the force of the pandemic‘s third wave and reducing the period of pain,” he added.

Korea on Tuesday added 303 new cases – 273 locally transmitted and 30 imported from overseas – raising the accumulated total to 81,487, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. The latest addition is up from 289 new cases reported a day earlier.

By Monday’s end, Korea had also reported a total of 1,482 deaths from the coronavirus, up eight from a day earlier. The number of COVID-19 patients in serious or critical condition reached 189, up from 188 people a day earlier.

The country conducted 82,942 tests throughout Sunday, up from 34,964 checks done a day earlier.

Officials have also been on their toes from continued findings of COVID-19 variants traced to Britain, South African and Brazil. The country has so far identified 80 cases of the more transmissible COVID-19 variants, 26 of which were announced Tuesday afternoon.

The situation is especially alarming as officials have already discovered community-level transmission of the variants.

As a means to prevent further influx of variant cases, the country will require everyone – including Korean citizens – departing from Africa to submit a negative result COVID-19 diagnostic test. Officials are to impose the test result requirement even for those off the self-quarantine mandate.

In response to the financial concerns of small business owners, officials have been pushing to provide more emergency relief handouts and thereby tackle the economic fallout from the pandemic.

The ruling Democratic Party of Korea and its lawmakers have proposed providing its fourth batch of emergency relief handouts to people and businesses that have suffered losses from the virus situation. The proposal has been opposed by opposition lawmakers who cited deteriorating financial health and a lack of necessity.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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