South Korea tracing church goers, confines troops to bases as coronavirus spreads

Health officials disinfect streets around Sarang Jeil Church in Seoul on Aug 17, 2020.
Health officials disinfect streets around Sarang Jeil Church in Seoul on Aug 17, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL  (REUTERS) - South Korea reported a three-digit increase in novel coronavirus cases for a fifth consecutive day, as authorities scrambled to trace hundreds of members of a church congregation, and the military locked down bases to counter the spread of the virus.

The Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 246 new cases as of Monday (Aug 17) midnight, two days after the reimposition of stricter social distancing curbs in the Seoul metropolitan area.  

South Korea has been one of the world’s coronavirus mitigation success stories but it has suffered repeated spikes in infections and the total number of cases stood at 15,761, including 306 deaths.  

As of Tuesday, at least 383 infections have been linked to the Sarang Jeil Church, 10 of whom were confirmed to have attended anti-government demonstrations over the past two weekends in downtown Seoul, Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told a briefing on Monday.  
The authorities were contact tracing hundreds more members of the congregation, to tell them to self-quarantine and get tested as they posed the highest transmission risk, said Kim.
Two new cases were reported among the military, bringing the total on military bases to 88, the defence ministry said.  

Some 461 military personnel were in quarantine, and all troops have been confined to their bases, with leave cancelled and visits halted for the rest of August.  

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun convened an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss extending the curbs nationwide, Yonhap news agency reported.  

The Seoul metropolitan area is subject to phase 2 restrictions, limiting indoor gatherings to below 50 people and outdoor gatherings to below 100, and banning spectators from sporting events.  

Health authorities had categorised social distancing rules in three stages – stage 1 being the least intense and stage 3 the toughest, where schools are shut down, businesses are advised to work from home and limits gatherings to below 10.  

“We are watching this situation closely with the door open (for possible upgrade to phase 3),” Kim told reporters.