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(LEAD) New virus cases under 200 for 9th day, S. Korea undecided on easing virus measures

09:51 September 11, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS details in last 5 paras; CHANGES photo)

SEOUL, Sept. 11 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new virus cases stayed below 200 for the ninth consecutive day Friday, but the country is still undecided over whether to extend enhanced virus measures in the greater Seoul area due to sporadic cluster infections and untraceable cases.

The country added 176 more COVID-19 cases, including 161 local infections, raising the total caseload to 21,919, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Friday's tally marked a slight increase from the 156 and 155 cases reported on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.

A medical worker prepares new coronavirus tests at a makeshift clinic in Gwangju, 320 kilometers south of Seoul, on Sept. 10, 2020, in this photo released by the Buk Ward of the city. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

South Korea, which even posted fewer than 10 daily cases in late April after suffering a record high number of infections in late February at 909, had been keeping the new virus cases at around 50 with some ups and downs.

But on Aug. 14, the figure doubled from the previous day to reach a whopping 103. The recent spike was mainly attributable to cases tied to a conservative church in northern Seoul and an anti-government rally.

To curb the spread of the virus, South Korea adopted the Level 2 social distancing scheme for other parts of the country in mid-August, under which indoor meetings of more than 50 people and open-air gatherings of over 100 people are banned.

This will run through Sept. 20, though it could be extended. On the back of the efforts, the number of daily new cases has been gradually falling after hitting 441 additional cases on Aug. 27.

The country adopted an enhanced version of a social distancing scheme for the capital area in late August, which will run through Sunday unless South Korea decides to extend it again.

Under the updated measure, restaurants in the Seoul metropolitan area can operate normally from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. but then can only offer takeout after that time. Franchise coffee chains, bakeries and ice cream parlors can only offer takeaway around the clock.

Health authorities have said a daily increase of around 100 COVID-19 patients is considered a manageable level under the current medical capability.

But the prolonged social distancing scheme is heavily weighing down the livelihoods of private businesses.

South Korea believes that while the number of new cases is showing signs of a slowdown, the country also needs to take various factors into consideration, including the reproduction rate, as well as the growing number of patients in critical condition.

The number of patients in serious or critical condition came to 175, up six from the previous day. Health authorities are worried that the recent spike will lead to shortages in hospital beds, as well as more deaths, as most of them are seniors.

Volunteer workers disinfect hand straps on a subway in Gwangju, 320 kilometers south of Seoul, on Sept. 10, 2020. (Yonhap)

Of the newly identified local infections, 61 cases were reported in Seoul and 47 from Gyeonggi Province that surrounds the capital.

Other municipalities reported new infections, with the central city of Daejeon adding 10 cases and Incheon, west of Seoul, reporting eight new cases. South Chungcheong Province added 14 new patients.

Cases traced to Sarang Jeil Church in northern Seoul, a hotbed of the recent spike in new infections, stayed unchanged for a second day at 1,167 according to the latest data provided Thursday.

Those tied to the anti-government rally in Seoul on Aug. 15, however, reached 557, up six from the previous day.

Other sporadic cluster infections continued throughout the nation.

A Buddhist facility located in western Seoul has reported 20 patients. A logistics center of e-commerce giant Coupang located in eastern Seoul has reported 13 infections.

Severance Hospital, one of the major general hospitals in Seoul, reported 10 cases. Hyundai Heavy Industries Co., the country's leading shipbuilder based in the southeastern industrial city of Ulsan, has 12 patients.

The proportion of patients with untraceable infection routes over the past two weeks came to 22.9 percent, according to the latest data, also straining the country's virus fight. A whopping 39.3 percent were linked to cluster infections.

The country, meanwhile, reported 15 imported cases.

Three patients were from Australia. The Philippines, Uzbekistan and Indonesia accounted for two patients each. There were also cases from India, Qatar, Kazakhstan, Nepal and the United States.

South Korea reported four more deaths, raising the total to 350. The fatality rate came to 1.6 percent.

The total number of people released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 17,616, up 256 from the previous day. So far, 80.4 percent of the patients reported here have been cured.

South Korea has carried out 2,119,211 COVID-19 tests since Jan. 3. The country reported its first case on Jan. 20.

colin@yna.co.kr
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