SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea will extend prevention and sanitation guidelines against the coronavirus until daily new infections drop to single digits, the health minister said on Friday, failing which he warned of a return to tough social distancing measures.
The announcement came as such cases persist in the mid-double digits following a series of new clusters in the area around Seoul, the capital, with 56 new cases on Thursday taking the national tally to 12,003, and 277 deaths.
Authorities will review whether to return to intensive social distancing if 50 daily infections persist for more than two weeks, Health Minister Park Neung-hoo told a briefing.
“These guidelines are aimed at cutting the series of infections centered in the Seoul area that could result in a return to social distancing,” he said.
More than 96% of new infections were in the Seoul metropolitan area in the last two weeks, he added. Of Thursday’s new cases, 42 were from the Seoul area.
South Korea has limited gatherings and recorded every visitor to eight high-risk facilities, such as nightclubs and bars, since May 29, Park said.
At least 147 cases were linked to an outbreak at an e-commerce logistics centre near Seoul, the Korea Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (KCDC) said.
Another Seoul outbreak of 139 infections was traced to a health product company that relied on door-to-door sales.
KCDC director Jeong Eun-kyeong warned of school transmissions affecting students.
“Recent major clusters are in closed and tightly sealed spaces like basements and in situations where mask-wearing is difficult – where you sing, share food or work out,” Jeong said.
Seventeen of 20,902 schools nationwide had to cancel classes on Friday, after a kindergartner and a teenager confirmed positive, the education ministry said, with schools closing after reporting infections among some students.
Schools and kindergartens had opened in phases from May 12, with four teachers and 12 students confirmed positive since.
(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Clarence Fernandez)