SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Concerns are mounting in Gwangju that it could emerge as a new hotbed for the spread of the new coronavirus, as sporadic infections continue to grow in the southern city with a population of 1.5 million.
Of 54 new daily cases reported in South Korea on Thursday (July 2), Gwangju registered 22 new cases, with a recent surge in Covid-19 infections related to small gatherings in churches and a Buddhist temple following its first double-digit rise of 12 on Wednesday.
Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said the transmission rate in the city is "alarming" and the rising trend should be flattened immediately.
"It only took a week for the daily caseload to grow from 20 to 200 when reflecting our experience in Daegu in February," Mr Park said.
The south-eastern city of Daegu has reported the largest number of accumulated infections of some 6,910, which were mainly traced to a religious cult, the epicentre of the country's virus outbreak.
Thirty more cases linked to the Buddhist temple of Gwangreuk in Gwangju were detected on Thursday, taking the total to 49, according to the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Visitors to the temple were found to have transmitted the contagious disease to others when they contacted people during a group meeting, religious gatherings and door-to-door businesses.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Gwangju mayor Lee Yong-sub stressed that the city is in critical situation where the shortage of hospital beds could be imminent given the trend of rising infections.
"Because those who have come in close contact with the ones tested positive are also increasing, we are facing an absolute scarcity of doctors, nurses, care workers and other medical professionals," Mr Lee said.
The city strengthened its social distancing measures to phase two, banning indoor gatherings of over 50 people and outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people.
On June 28, the government introduced three-phased social distancing measures in order to provide clear and unified guidelines that the people can follow in sync with the number of daily-infected persons and the rate of untraceable cases.
For the next two weeks, operation of public and multi-use facilities such as libraries and museums as well as high-risk sites like Internet cafes and karaoke bars will be suspended.
Gwangju Metropolitan Office of Education on Wednesday directed all elementary, middle and high schools in the city to move their classes online for Thursday and Friday. From July 6-15, schools are required to reduce the number of students in classrooms, capping the number of elementary and middle school students to one-third of the total student body and high schools to two-thirds.
The Central Disaster Management Headquarters said that the government and ministries would actively support Gwangju so that the city could make the most of its newly adopted measures relating to the elevation of social distancing regime.