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Autumn, nursing homes and imported cases pose threat to antivirus fight

Vaccine development by Korean firms expected to complete late next year or in 2022, KDCA chief says

South Korea saw a triple-digit increase in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases Monday, as health authorities warned of a possible outbreak with clusters of infections at senior care homes, and worried about increased autumn activities and a resurgence of the coronavirus abroad. 

Korea added 119 new coronavirus cases -- 94 locally transmitted and 25 imported from overseas -- in the 24 hours ending Sunday at midnight, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

Three major risks to the country’s antivirus fight are outbreaks traced to senior care homes, a continued influx of imported cases and the growing number of people taking part in fall activities such as hiking and picnics, according to KDCA chief Jung Eun-kyeong.

“The scale of the virus outbreaks abroad is much more serious than in spring,” Jung said at a briefing Monday, saying authorities will toughen quarantine checks at the border by narrowing the range of acceptable body temperatures and expanding testing at the airport.

Among those coming from countries with surging virus cases, those with a temperature higher than 37.3 degrees Celsius – instead of 37.5 degrees Celsius -- will be required to be tested for the virus at the airport. Those accompanying inbound travelers with symptoms will be tested for the virus regardless of having symptoms, she added.

Jung also urged the public to maintain their personal hygiene and refrain from gathering in enclosed spaces, referring to this weekend’s Halloween holiday that is expected to draw crowds to nightlife spots.

The daily average number of locally transmitted COVID-19 cases for the past week was 75.3, up 13 from the previous week, with most cases linked to hospitals and nursing homes. The daily average of imported cases was 20 for the past week, up 2 from a week earlier.

The daily case count climbed to 155 on Friday, the highest single-day rise since Sept. 17, but fell below 100 over the weekend due in part to fewer diagnostic tests being carried out. Some 6,118 tests were done the previous day.

The tally has fluctuated around 100 for the past two weeks since the country eased antivirus restrictions, although authorities appear to have gained more control of the virus situation given the decrease in the number of cases where transmission routes were unknown.

The proportion of cases with unknown infection routes was 10.6 percent for the past two weeks as of Monday, according to the KDCA.

A new cluster of infections was found at a welfare facility for the disabled in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province, where 28 people tested positive for the virus since the first case was reported on Wednesday.

Cases linked to a nursing home in Namyangju, Gyeonggi Province, and a rehabilitation hospital in Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province, rose by 10 and seven, respectively, bringing their total related cases to 59 and 135.

Of Monday’s locally transmitted cases, the majority were in Greater Seoul -- 20 in Seoul, 65 in Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds the capital, and three in Incheon. Three cases were reported in South Gyeongsang Province, and with one each in Daejeon, North Chungcheong Province and South Chungcheong Province.

Korea reported 25 imported cases. Of them, eight were identified while the individuals were under mandatory self-quarantine in Korea, with the other 17 detected during the screening process at the border. Seventeen cases were from elsewhere in Asia, while six were from Europe, one was from the United States and one came from Ivory Coast. Of the 25 cases, 15 involved foreign nationals. 

Meanwhile, the development of the vaccine for the coronavirus is expected to be completed at the end of next year or in 2022, she said. Currently, the authorities are supporting the development of the vaccines by three Korean firms, with their vaccines either not yet going through clinical trials or the phase 1.

The number of COVID-19 patients in serious or critical condition here was 53 as of Monday.

No additional deaths were reported, with the death toll unchanged at 457. The overall fatality rate is now 1.76 percent.

So far, of the 25,955 people confirmed to have contracted the new coronavirus here, 23,905 have been released from quarantine upon making full recoveries, up 36 from a day earlier. Some 1,593 people are receiving medical treatment under quarantine. 

The country carried out 6,118 tests in the past day, with over 2.55 million tests conducted since Jan. 3. Some 20,763 people were awaiting results as of Monday.   

By Ock Hyun-ju (