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COVID-19: South Korea reports 279 new coronavirus cases, most in 5 months

The COVID-19 resurgence in a region with 10 times more people than Daegu is a rude awakening for a country that has been eager to tout its hard-won gains against the virus.

South Korea has reported 279 new coronavirus cases in the highest daily jump since early March, as fears grow about a massive outbreak in the greater capital region. The figures released by the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday brought the national caseload to 15,318, including 305 deaths.

The number of new cases is the highest since 367 on March 8, when the country was concentrating public health tools and personnel nationwide to bring an outbreak in the less populated southern region under control. The KCDC said 253 of the new cases came from the Seoul metropolitan area, home to 26 million people, where health authorities have been struggling to stem transmissions linked to churches, nursing homes, schools, restaurants and door-to-door salespeople.

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Infections were also reported in other major cities such as Busan and Daegu, which was the epicenter of the previous crisis in late February and March when hundreds of new cases were reported each day. During a virus meeting, President Moon Jae-in called for pan-national efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the capital region. He also instructed officials to review plans for sharing hospital capacities between Seoul and nearby towns to ensure swift transport of patients so that a spike of cases in one area doesn’t overwhelm its hospital system.

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo urged people to stay home on Monday, a special holiday the government had drawn up with hopes of spurring domestic consumption, and for residents in Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi province to avoid visiting other parts of the country for two weeks.

The COVID-19 resurgence in a region with 10 times more people than Daegu is a rude awakening for a country that has been eager to tout its hard-won gains against the virus. There are concerns that the spread could worsen after thousands of anti-government protesters rallied in Seoul on Saturday despite official pleas to stay home.

It appears the protests organized by conservative activist and church groups mainly involved people over 60, who are considered at higher risk for complications linked to COVID-19. The government is pushing charges against an outspoken conservative pastor who participated in Saturday’s marches along with his followers despite his northern Seoul church being tied to 249 COVID-19 infections as of Sunday afternoon.

Health Ministry official Son Young-rae said the pastor, Jun Kwang-hun, who has frequently led anti-Moon protests in downtown Seoul in past months, disrupted contact tracing efforts by falsely reporting the church’s members and allegedly discouraging followers from getting tested. Health workers have so far tested 800 of the church’s members and plan to test 3,000 more.

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