Coronavirus: Global cases

S. Korea probes new outbreak in Seoul, shuts Parliament

28 confirmed infections at apartment block; country sees highest daily tally since March

Police officers standing guard at the main gate of the National Assembly in Seoul yesterday, after some lawmakers went into self-quarantine following contact with a positive case. A photojournalist who had covered a ruling party meeting on Wednesday
Police officers standing guard at the main gate of the National Assembly in Seoul yesterday, after some lawmakers went into self-quarantine following contact with a positive case. A photojournalist who had covered a ruling party meeting on Wednesday was later tested and confirmed to have Covid-19.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
The locked entrance to the main building of the National Assembly. All parliamentary activities were suspended from yesterday.
The locked entrance to the main building of the National Assembly. All parliamentary activities were suspended from yesterday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL • South Korea was investigating a new coronavirus outbreak among 28 people in a residential block in its capital Seoul yesterday, as it reported the biggest daily rise in infections since March.

City officials planned to test 500 residents at a temporary site in front of the block and sent a team of specialists to investigate how residents on five different floors were infected, one of the officials said.

At least 28 of the 436 tested were positive for Covid-19, with eight of them living in apartments right above one another, the official said.

"Seoul city is conducting a first on-site investigation," said Ms Park Yoo-mi, a general director in the city government.

Experts in areas from epidemiology to construction, as well as the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), have been drafted in to uncover the route of infection, she added.

KCDC official Kwon Jun-wook said the virus was more likely to have spread via the lifts of the apartment block than its vents.

"The possibility is not seen as high for the transmission route through the ventilation openings," he added, citing experts.

Last month, the World Health Organisation acknowledged the possibility of airborne transmission of the virus, but stopped short of confirming it spreads through the air.

A study in China, however, found virus traces in the bathroom of a vacant flat above that of some infected tenants, suggesting the possibility of transmission as an aerosol through sewage pipes.

South Korea suffered a setback this month in its battle with the virus as a church outbreak spread to a political rally, despite earlier success in reining it in, compared with other nations.

The KCDC reported 441 new coronavirus infections as of Wednesday - the highest daily tally since the first large outbreak in March.

 
 
 
 

Earlier, the authorities urged businesses to get employees to work from home, fearing the risk of outbreaks in crowded places, such as at a call centre in March and a logistics centre in June.

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said at least 80 per cent of the infections over the past week are from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area and many were linked to the Sarang Jeil church and a political rally on Aug 15.

The health authorities have sent a list of at least 51,000 people, who have been categorised as being linked to the rally, to local governments, Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho said.

South Korea had to shut its Parliament yesterday after some lawmakers went into self-quarantine following contact with a positive case.

The National Assembly was closed after a photojournalist who had covered a ruling party meeting on Wednesday was later tested and confirmed to have Covid-19.

The result prompted more than 10 top Democrats - including the party chairman and its parliamentary leader - to undergo tests of their own and go into self-isolation.

Officials ordered all parliamentary activities to be suspended from yesterday, with both the National Assembly and a building housing lawmakers' offices closed.

Opposition parties also cancelled scheduled meetings.

Yesterday was South Korea's 14th consecutive day of triple-digit increases in case numbers, bringing the total to 18,706, with a death toll of 313.

Currently, the largest cluster is from the Sarang Jeil church. All religious services were banned earlier this month in the greater Seoul area and President Moon Jae-in met more than 15 Protestant church leaders, asking for their cooperation.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2020, with the headline 'S. Korea probes new outbreak in Seoul, shuts Parliament'. Subscribe