|Students at Nanwoo Elementary School in Seoul's Gwanak District receive COVID-19 testing at the school, Sunday, after a part-time teacher there tested positive for the virus. The teacher's case was traced to an infection cluster that recently occurred at a church in the district. / Yonhap|
New COVID-19 cases spike again to over 60
By Jun Ji-hye
New COVID-19 cases reported nationwide spiked again to over 60, Sunday, raising fears of a second wave of infections, according to the health authorities.
Such fears come as many countries abroad, including the U.S., Brazil and India, are showing signs of entering a second wave of the pandemic, with explosive growth in confirmed cases and emerging new infection clusters.
Some health experts are warning of a possible explosion of infections next month that would significantly strain the nation's health care system here if the coronavirus trend continues as it is.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said the country added 62 new infections ― 40 local and 22 imported cases ― Saturday, bringing the nation's total to 12,715. The death toll remained unchanged at 282.
The daily number of new cases, which rose from 51 reported the previous day, jumped to over 60 for the first time in eight days due to new infection clusters at churches in the greater Seoul area, continued sporadic infections in other parts of the country and a continuous rise in the number of imported cases.
Of the 40 locally transmitted infections, 26 were in Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province, six and four were from Daejeon and Gwangju, respectively, while three and one were in South Jeolla Province and North Chungcheong Province.
New infection clusters related to two churches have contributed to a continued rise in local infections in Seoul and nearby areas. The KCDC said 27 patients have been traced to a church in Seoul's Gwanak District as of noon Sunday, while 18 were linked to another church in Anyang, Gyeonggi Province.
"Gatherings at churches have recently emerged as sources of infection clusters," KCDC Director Jung Eun-kyeong said during a media briefing. "We ask churches to reduce the number of people participating in services, and refrain from offering food and singing together as such activities can launch respiratory droplets."
On June 22, Jung said the second wave of infections may have already been in progress in the greater Seoul area since the number of infections increased again in May.
Ki Mo-ran, a professor at the National Cancer Center, claimed in a research paper that the daily number of new cases here could exceed 800 next month and soon spiral out of control, if the government does not take appropriate measures, such as re-imposing the strict social distancing enforced nationwide between March 22 and May 5.
Myongji Hospital Chairman Lee Wang-jun said the government will need to carry out coronavirus diagnostic testing on millions of people, when the next big wave occurs.
"Toward that end, far more medical personnel will be necessary, while some will even need to conduct testing on themselves," Lee said.
Chun Eun-mi, a pulmonologist at Ewha Womans University Mokdong Hospital in Seoul, called on the government to make more efforts to better categorize patients according to their conditions and preemptively prepare more community treatment centers serving as temporary hospitals to treat patients with minor symptoms, in preparation for a lack of beds for critically ill patients.
"Patients with mild symptoms account for about 80 percent of the total. Those patients need to be moved to community treatment centers, so patients severely affected with the virus can receive the proper treatment," she said.
Late Sunday, the government announced a decision to divide its social distancing campaign into three phases depending on the seriousness of the situation.
It said it will from now on call the current "distancing in daily life," which began May 6, Level 1 social distancing.
The social distancing drive will be raised to Level 2 when the daily number of new cases is more than 50 and less than 100, and to Level 3 when the number is more than 100.
The public health crisis outside the country seems more serious.
In the United States, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington forecast nearly 180,000 in that country will die from COVID-19 by Oct. 1, adding that number could drop to about 150,000 if at least 95 percent of people wore masks in public.
"There is no doubt that even as states open up, the United States is still grappling with a large epidemic on course to increase beginning in late August and intensifying in September," said IHME Director Christopher Murray.