|Medical workers transfer a coronavirus patient to Seonam Hospital in Seoul, a government designated facility for patients with severe symptoms, Monday. Korea Times photo by Choi Won-suk
By Bahk Eun-ji
The number of new coronavirus infections declined for the third straight day Monday as the government nears the completion of tests on members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a religious sect at the center of the rapid spread of the highly-contagious virus, according to officials.
But they added that the administration remains on high alert over possible new clusters of infections outside Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, which have been hit hardest by the coronavirus over the past month.
As of 9 p.m. Monday, the government reported 96 new infections, bringing the country's total to 7,478 with 54 fatalities, mostly elderly patients with underlying conditions, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).
The KCDC said the number of new cases was also below the average daily increase of 500 last week, and the lowest number since Feb. 26, when new cases dropped to the 200-level. The preceding Thursday, Friday and Saturday marked 518, 438 and 367, respectively.
"More than 79 percent of COVID-19 cases were found to be related to mass infection, and among them, 62.5 percent were linked to the Shincheonji Church," KCDC Director Jung Eun-kyong said during a daily briefing at the Government Complex in Sejong.
Jeong said it was true that the number of newly confirmed cases has declined, but it was too early to say the situation was getting better as other provinces and cities reported small-scale cluster infections over the weekend.
A civil servant at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, working at the government complex in Sejong was also infected with COVID-19. According to officials at the health ministry, she is assumed to have contracted the virus at a Zumba class she took in February. An instructor of the class was earlier confirmed infected after attending a workshop in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province.
Areas such as Gyeonggi Province and Seoul have also seen rises in cases of the highly contagious virus. In Gyeonggi Province, 11 additional cases were confirmed as of Monday, bringing the total to 152.
In Seoul, 75 patients were linked to clusters of infections resulting from so-called community spread as of late Sunday, the KCDC said. Of them, 14 patients were linked to Eunpyeong St. Mary's Hospital in Eunpyeong-gu, and another 13 cases in Seoul came from an apartment building in Seongdong-gu. A new cluster of infections was reported in Dongdaemun-gu, where a couple in their 60s and their daughter in her 30s, along with her four-week infant, all tested positive for the virus.
A total of 13, including six medical staff, at Bundang Jaesaeng General Hospital in Gyeonggi Province, have tested positive for the virus. The KCDC said a 77-year-old woman who visited the emergency center there with pneumonia symptoms seems likely to have been infected and may have inadvertently infected staff and patients.