South Korea seeks to contain smaller outbreaks as new coronavirus cases slow

Quarantine workers in protective gear spray disinfectants at a screening facility near Daegu, Korea, on March 11, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korea on Thursday (March 12) reported 114 new cases of the coronavirus and six more deaths, resuming a relative decline in new cases after a spike the day before.

The new cases bring the country's total to 7,869, with 66 deaths, the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said, as health officials seek to track down and contain a number of new clusters of infections, including at a call centre in the capital, Seoul.

The numbers are far lower than the peak of 909 cases reported on Feb 29, and health officials said the trend does appear to be slowing in what has been the largest outbreak in Asia outside of China.

Still, the authorities say the coming days will be crucial in South Korea's fight to contain the outbreak, and the government will double down on its efforts to prevent new clusters from spreading.

"It is too early to say we are overcoming the disease," Mr Yoon Tae-ho, director general for public health policy, said at a briefing.

"We are still witnessing sporadic outbreaks so we cannot lower our guard."

Nineteen of the new cases reported on Thursday were in Seoul, where at least 102 people working at a call centre have tested positive for the coronavirus, raising concerns about a wider outbreak in the capital.

Nearly 800 people working in the call centre and 200 residents of the building have been tested, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said.

"Containing the spread from the call centre is decisive in blocking additional transmission of the coronavirus," Mayor Park said."We will focus all necessary personal and material support on the area."

Seventy-three of the new cases were from the city of Daegu, the epicentre of the country's outbreak.

Mr Yoon urged South Koreans across the country to avoid public gatherings and maintain "social distancing" from other people.

The government also said it would expand fever screening and other monitoring measures for people arriving from certain European countries.

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