Korea’s daily new COVID-19 cases fell below 100 for the first time in 38 days, Sunday, but the health authorities continue to remain on edge over the increasing number of untraceable infections.
The government decided to maintain its Level 2 social distancing measure nationwide before the Chuseok holiday as sporadic infection clusters and untraceable cases continued to put the health authorities on alert, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Sunday.
“The situation outside the Seoul metropolitan area has been showing signs of abating with around 20 cases daily, but we cannot become complacent, considering the country is still suffering from a high ratio of patients with unknown infection routes and sporadic infection clusters nationwide,” Chung said in a regular COVID-19 response meeting.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 82 new COVID-19 infections for Saturday, including 72 local ones, raising the total caseload to 22,975. Five more deaths were reported, raising the toll to 383 amid a fatality rate of 1.67 percent.
The fall in the daily tally to below 100 is the first since Aug. 13, but the two-digit figure might result from fewer tests conducted. More than 10,000 tests are usually carried out a week, but only 7,539 people were tested as of Friday, the KDCA said. Of the newly identified local infections, 28 were reported in Seoul and 24 in Gyeonggi Province, surrounding the capital area; while Incheon, west of Seoul reported three more cases.
After the country observed a new surge of cases especially in the metropolitan area, the government implemented stricter social distancing measures, which made it mandatory for restaurants and coffee shops to offer only takeout food and beverages after 9 p.m.
Over the last month, the daily new cases were under 200 and the government lifted the enhanced distancing policy last week, although the Level 2 measures are still in force nationwide.
According to data released by the KDCA, the number of coronavirus infections from untraceable routes accounted for a record high of 27.4 percent of all cases reported in the past two weeks. This means it has not determined when, where, and from whom nearly three out of 10 patients were infected.
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The rate of untraceable infections has gradually increased since the middle of August and has recently soared to nearly 30 percent. It fell slightly to 27.4 percent Saturday, from a high of 28.1 percent of the previous day.
Such patients with unknown infection routes pose a major challenge to the quarantine authorities’ fight against the virus. When a patient is confirmed to have been infected with the virus, it is necessary to find a “hidden patient” through rapid contact tracing, but if the quarantine officials have difficulties finding the infection vector, it can be much harder to block secondary, tertiary and chain transmissions.
Likewise, such patients pose a high risk of spreading the virus around them without their knowledge. The health authorities are concerned that the number of deaths may rise further down the road as most of the patients in critical condition are elderly. The number of patients in serious or critical condition came to 146, down six from the previous day.
The government is urging people from traveling to their hometowns ahead of the Chuseok holiday when many Koreans usually travel and spend time with their family members. The government decided to designate the days as a special antivirus period for two weeks from Sept. 28.
Sporadic outbreaks showed no signs of letup in the capital area, as cases tied to Yonsei Severance Hospital reached 48, while a nursing hospital in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, reported 19 cases. Infections tied to production lines at Kia Motors also reached 16.
Infections from last month’s massive anti-government rallies came to 613. On the previous day, the Seoul government said it would sue pastor Jeon Kwang-hoon, who led the demonstrations, for hampering its contact tracing work by instructing his followers to give false information.
Source: The Korea Times