|Public officials prepare kits packed with quarantine-related goods, including face masks and thermometers, in the southwestern city of Gwangju, Tuesday, for delivery to people who are self-quarantining at home. Yonhap|
By Bahk Eun-ji
The health authorities are increasingly concerned as the spread of COVID-19 here is accelerating, with recent outbreaks having occurred in everyday places such as apartments, gyms and golf courses, officials said Tuesday.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), said 29 coronavirus infections have been connected to an apartment block in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi Province. The apartment's elevator was considered the most likely vector for infection as residents' movements did not overlap anywhere else. Elevators, however, had not been identified as a clear route for infection, the KCDC said.
Experts also warn that the coronavirus can survive for several days on surfaces, so there is always a risk that droplets from an infected person could spread the virus on elevator buttons. In other words, people can be exposed to the risk of infection in their daily lives even if they do not have direct contact with infected people.
The same goes for outdoor activities. At a golf course in Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province, two acquaintances tested positive after playing golf with a virus carrier tied to the Uijeongbu apartment case. In general, closed indoor spaces are considered to present the highest risk for virus transmission, while outdoor places are known to be relatively low risk. But the golf course infections reveal that outdoor activities remain unsafe if people are in close contact with the infected.
As one of the reasons behind the continued mass and small-scale infections, experts say there is the possibility that the type of virus currently prevalent in Korea has mutated.
In particular, the strain of the virus here has recently been confirmed as a variant of the GH genetic strain, which is believed to spread six times faster than seven other strains.
KCDC Director Jeong Eun-kyeong said the GH clade proliferates well in cells and is more infectious which would help it spread faster.
"Before early April, S and V clades were mainly identified. Since the outbreak in Yecheon, North Gyeongsang Province, in early April, and infection clusters linked with nightclubs in Itaewon in May, the GH clade has been detected in cases tied to door-to-door sales companies in Daejeon, and Gwangneuk Temple in the southwestern city of Gwangju.
The KCDC reported 44 new infections Monday ― 20 local and 24 imported ― bringing the nation's total to 13,181. It marks the first time in two weeks that imported cases outnumbered local infections. One additional fatality was reported, bringing the death toll to 285, with a nationwide rate of 2.16 percent.
Among the local infections, seven cases were detected in Gyeonggi Province, followed by six in Gwangju. A total of 92 cases had been tied to Gwangneuk Temple in Gwangju, as of Monday.
Three cases were reported in Seoul, the KCDC said. With the 24 new cases, the total of imported infections has now reached 1,690.