|Residents in Seoul's Gangnam District go through COVID-19 testing at a public health center, Thursday, as a sauna in the area has reported at least 17 virus patients. / Yonhap|
By Jun Ji-hye
COVID-19 infection clusters, which have been reported mostly at nursing homes and hospitals in recent days, continue to grow from human interactions related to everyday activities, with new cases emerging from social gatherings, schools, workplaces and saunas.
The health authorities are paying keen attention to new clusters as they have continued to emerge day after day since the government lowered its three-tier social distancing guidelines to the lowest level ― Level 1 ― beginning Oct. 12.
Level 1 allows people to normalize most of their daily activities, while taking basic precautions.
Amid continuous reports of group infections across the country, the nation's new COVID-19 cases have hovered around 100 daily in recent days.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), the nation added 125 virus cases for Wednesday, raising the total caseload to 26,271. This was a rise from 103 cases identified Tuesday.
Among the 125 new cases, the number of local infections stood at 106, way over the benchmark of less than 50 set by the health authorities to implement Level 1 guidelines.
A gathering of university alumni at a golf club in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, has emerged as a new hotbed for infections, with at least 51 reported as of noon Thursday.
Cases have also been reported at schools ― 15 have been traced to an elementary school in Pocheon, Gyeonggi Province.
The country allowed up to two-thirds of students to return to school for face-to-face learning, starting Oct. 19, in accordance with the eased social distancing rules.
The KDCA noted at least 17 patients have been tracked to a sauna in Seoul's Gangnam District.
The authorities are expressing concerns over the possibility that such sporadic infection clusters could lead to another mass outbreak at any time.
In particular, Halloween, which occurs Saturday, is regarded as a major concern as many young people could gather at entertainment facilities, another potential hotbed for infections. As a precaution, popular nightclubs in the Itaewon, Hongdae and Gangnam areas have decided to voluntarily close this weekend.
Meanwhile, KDCA Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong was administered a flu shot Thursday, as part of efforts to restore public trust in the state-led flu shot program and to stress the safety of the vaccines amid ongoing public fears following the deaths of dozens of people after getting flu shots.
Before Jeong, Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo received a flu shot Tuesday.
The KDCA has maintained a position that the state-led program will continue to prevent a potential "twindemic" of COVID-19 and the flu this winter, citing that no direct links between the deaths and the vaccinations have been found.