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(LEAD) New virus cases rebound; cluster infections simmering beyond capital area

11:43 July 01, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details throughout; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, July 1 (Yonhap) -- The number of new virus cases in South Korea bounced back Wednesday as cluster infections continued to increase in areas beyond the Seoul metropolitan area amid a sustained rise in imported cases.

The country added 51 cases, including 36 local infections, raising the total caseload to 12,850, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

The tally marked a rise from 43 new cases of COVID-19 reported Tuesday and 42 cases on Monday.

Densely populated Seoul and the surrounding area accounted for most of the locally transmitted cases last month, but the virus outbreaks have been constantly reported in other parts of the country.

Quarantine officials disinfect an elementary school in Daejeon, 164 kilometers south of Seoul, on June 30, 2020, as one of its students tested positive for the new coronavirus. (Yonhap)

Of local infections, 20 cases were reported in the greater Seoul area. Twelve cases were identified in the southwestern city of Gwangju, marking the first time that virus cases hit double-digit figures since the first outbreak in the city in February. Three cases were reported in the central city of Daejeon.

"Cluster infections at large-scale facilities subdued, but virus cases increased in connection to small-sized venues and gatherings," Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said in a briefing.

Kim voiced concerns that the virus is spreading into the central and southwestern regions beyond the greater Seoul area.

In yet another worrisome sign, two elementary students in Daejeon tested positive Tuesday, the first spread of the virus at a school in the country.

South Korea has been harried by rises in sporadic cluster infections in the greater Seoul area since it relaxed strict social distancing on May 6 on the flattened virus curve.

School reopening, completed in early June, is a key feature of the eased social distancing rules.

Cluster infections traced to small religious gatherings have emerged as the main cause for the latest spike in local infections.

Cases traced to a major church in Seoul's southwestern ward of Gwanak reached 31 as of noon Tuesday, up three cases from the previous day. Those linked to a Buddhist temple in Gwangju rose by two to 14.

The country's health authorities remain jittery over a potential new wave of virus outbreaks in the summer amid sustained rises in local infections and cases coming in from overseas.

This photo, taken on June 30, 2020, shows a hospital in Gwangju, 329 kilometers south of Seoul, whose access is restricted as one of its inpatients tested positive for the new coronavirus. (Yonhap)

The country, meanwhile, reported 15 additional imported cases, raising the total of such cases to 1,598.

It marked the sixth straight day that imported cases rose by a double-digit number.

In a bid to strengthen quarantine checks at ports, health authorities said that starting from today they will conduct on-board inspections of foreign ships arriving from 54 high-risk countries.

On-board quarantine checks have been underway on vessels coming from several risk-prone countries including China, Iran, Italy and Russia.

The KCDC will also conduct coronavirus tests starting next Monday on sailors who get off ships coming into the country. They will be also required to self-isolate for two weeks.

A rise in cases coming in from overseas put further strains on health authorities' virus fights, with some calling for the need to implement restrictive entry measures selectively. On Tuesday alone, 10 cases were traced to arrivals from Kazakhstan.

South Korea, meanwhile, reported no additional deaths, bringing the death toll to 282. The fatality rate was 2.19 percent.

The total number of people released from quarantine after full recoveries stood at 11,613, up 76 from the previous day.

The country has carried out 1,285,231 tests since Jan. 3.

Citizens wait to receive new coronavirus tests at a screening site in Seoul's southwestern ward of Gwanak on June 30, 2020. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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