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(LEAD) S. Korea at critical juncture for virus containment amid rising Itaewon-linked infections

10:35 May 11, 2020

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SEOUL, May 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's coronavirus containment capability is again put to the test after successfully controlling new infections for weeks, as the country braces for a steady rise in new cases linked to clubs and bars in Seoul.

The country reported 35 more cases of the new coronavirus Monday, the biggest single day spike since April 9, bringing the nation's total infections to 10,909, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

The country had been adding fewer than 15 cases of COVID-19 since mid-April, with the number of domestic infections even falling to zero at some points, before rebounding to 18 and 34 cases over the weekend.

Shown in the photo taken May 10, 2020, is a medical check-up center for the new coronavirus located in the Yongsan district of Seoul, where a multicultural neighborhood of Itaewon is located. (Yonhap)

The hike came after a man in his 20s who tested positive for COVID-19 visited clubs and bars in Seoul's popular multicultural neighborhood of Itaewon on May 1. More than 1,500 people were believed to have visited those places during the time with the virus patient.

So far, virus infections linked to the places have totaled 75 nationally, the Seoul city's mayor said Monday. Of the infected, 49 were from Seoul.

After keeping local infections at zero for a few days, South Korea saw an unexpected spike in cases coming from entertainment facilities in the popular area, with infections reported not only in Seoul but across the country.

The surge in new virus cases came as the country eased social distancing guidelines last week, and schools are set to gradually open.

Imported cases, which used to be the biggest threat for South Korea's quarantine operations over recent days, are now less of a concern. But the country still added six such cases Monday.

The total number of imported cases came to 1,133.

The nation's death toll remained unchanged at 256, the KCDC said.

It marked the fourth consecutive day for South Korea to add no additional virus deaths. The mortality rate stood at 2.35 percent.

In total, 9,632 people in South Korea have recovered from the virus, up 22 from a day earlier. The figure translates into 88 percent of patients here being fully cured of the disease.

The country has carried out tests on 668,492 people since Jan. 3, including 4,606 from a day earlier.

Commuters wearing masks moves transfer at a subway station in Seoul on May 11, 2020. (Yonhap)

South Korea gave the go-ahead to the normalization of public facilities and other business establishments under the condition that they start following basic sanitation measures Wednesday. Schools will also open in phases soon.

The country vowed to maintain most of the eased regulations despite the new cluster infections for the time being, although it plans to apply tougher restrictions on entertainment facilities.

Seoul, the most populous city, imposed an administrative order to effectively suspend business at clubs, bars and other nightlife establishments Saturday. The precautionary measure will remain in place until further notice, without specifying a date.

The country remains vigilant over more cluster infections from the previous holiday that ran from April 30 through May 5, as many South Koreans made short trips across the nation. The incubation period of the COVID-19 virus is roughly two weeks.

The country, which has been warning of a second wave of the pandemic in the second half of 2020, is now concerned that may happen soon.

colin@yna.co.kr
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