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S. Korea reports 147 new cases on emerging cluster infections

Medical personnel are transferring COVID-19 patients from a nursing hospital in North Gyeongsang Province. (Yonhap)
Medical personnel are transferring COVID-19 patients from a nursing hospital in North Gyeongsang Province. (Yonhap)

 South Korea saw another climb in novel coronavirus cases on Friday, as new clusters of infection have been detected at nursing homes in Daegu, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak here, and increasing cases from overseas are being confirmed, officials said Saturday.
  
A total of 147 new cases were reported, bringing the nation’s total infections to 8,799, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The daily tally saw an uptick from the previous day’s standing at 87, despite an overall downward trend since early this month.
    
Ten more people died, all of whom were from Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, raising the nationwide death toll to 104 as of Saturday afternoon. Another 379 people were newly declared virus-free, putting the total number of recoveries at 2,612.
 
Of the 147 new cases, 69 are in Daegu and 40 are in neighboring North Gyeongsang Province, the two hardest-hit regions here, accounting for 72 percent and 14 percent of total infections, respectively.
 
The new cases are mostly traced to Daesil Nursing Hospital in Daegu, where 64 at the hospital -- 52 patients and 12 medical staff -- have tested positive for COVID-19 so far. The hospital has been placed under cohort isolation.
 
Daegu is seeing sporadic clusters of infections at nursing homes, including 76 people at Hansarang Nursing Hospital and a handful each at around 10 hospitals across the city.
 
The new cases in North Gyeongsang Province were linked to Seo Nursing Hospital, which reported 35 infections as of Saturday, with the number expected to increase as testing is still underway.
 
As the virus has affected nearly every corner of the planet -- over 275,000 infections across more than 165 countries and regions -- Seoul authorities are on edge over how to contain COVID-19 cases arriving from overseas. Six more imported virus cases were reported, bringing the total to 23.
 
Starting Sunday, Korea will mandate all arrivals – Koreans and foreign nationals alike -- from Europe get tested for COVID-19 and self-isolate for two weeks, even if they tested negative. The government has prepared a temporary shelter that can house 1,000 travelers from Europe where they can stay and await test results.
 
The measure is in response to concerns that the majority of imported cases had traveled from Europe, which has become the new center of the COVID-19 outbreak. Italy’s death toll exceeded 4,000 and that of China, where the virus is thought to have originated last year, while Spain and Germany’s numbers of cases each rose nearly 3,000 overnight.
 
Seoul has yet to consider imposing similar action on arrivals from the North American region, where the numbers of virus cases are rapidly increasing.
 
Meanwhile, the number of infected continued to rise in the country’s most populated areas. Seoul and Gyeonggi Province saw 15 and 12 additional cases reported, respectively.
 
While Korea has seen a markedly slower spread of virus in comparison to its peak of a 909 daily tally on Feb. 29, Seoul authorities have asked citizens not to be complacent and to brace for the long haul.
 
“COVID-19 is spreading at an alarming rate around the world, and we are seeing sporadic mass infections,” said Yoon Tae-ho, a senior Health Ministry official in charge of containment measures, in a briefing on Saturday. “Considering COVID-19’s nature of high infection rate and fast spread, it is highly possible for the coronavirus epidemic to continue for a substantial period of time.”
 
The fatality rate for COVID-19 stood at 1.16 percent locally, with the majority of deaths here among those aged 60 and older and with preexisting conditions.
 
So far, the country has tested 327,509 people for COVID-19, with 303,006 testing negative, while 15,704 await results.
 
By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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