Korea reported new Covid-19 cases of below 20 on Monday, but health officials remained on thin ice, as club-linked infections showed little signs of abating, and most grade-schoolers will go to schools on Wednesday.
The nation recorded 16 new virus cases as of midnight Sunday, bringing the total to 11,206, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thirteen of them were local infections. The number of recovered patients rose to 10,226, as hospitals discharged an additional 13 cured people. One more patient died, raising the death toll to 267. The nation, with a population of 50 million, has tested 826,437 people since Jan. 3
Beginning Tuesday, people not wearing face masks will not be able to use public transport, including subways, buses and taxis. The same rule applies to airplane passengers a day later.
At a daily briefing, Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo said such a stringent control is inevitable as the public’s quarantine mindsets get increasingly loosened since the government eased its social distancing to everyday life quarantine.
Reiterating the need to wear masks as most critical in preventing the community spread, Park also pointed out that the number of people infected through community spread has now far exceeded those who got the virus through contacting clubbers in Itaewon, Seoul, or visiting the multicultural nightlife district in the capital city during the extended holiday and later.
The health authorities are struggling to sever the chain of infections as newly confirmed cases started from clubs in Itaewon continue. The number of patients infected from the Itaewon cluster has swelled to 233.
A large number of Covid-19 patients are asymptomatic, and the spreading speed is so fast that a new type of transmission is formed even before the health authorities identify infected patients, epidemiological experts said, noting that suspected cases of the fifth- or sixth-order infection from Itaewon have been reported.
"Covid-19 virus spreads rapidly to homes and workplaces, and when a new transmission path is created, no one knows where the clusters of infection will occur. All citizens ought to feel responsible for breaking chain infections by following the daily preventive measures for infectious disease at home and work offices," Korea University College of Medicine Professor Kim Woo-joo said.
To minimize spreads by young pleasure-seekers who can hardly refrain from visiting bars and clubs, the health authorities will implement an electronic registration system that checks the entries and exits to these establishments based on quick response, from next month.
Minister of Education Yoo Eun-hye said Sunday that the government would come up with more specific measures concerning the reopening of schools, as kindergartners, elementary and middle school students will start offline classes on Wednesday.
Yoo said the ministry would strongly recommend schools in areas with concerns about clustered infections to limit the number of students attending schools below two-thirds of the total.
Kores reopened high schools last Wednesday, but some 75 of them had to close their campus again, as several dozens of students showed coronavirus-like symptoms, and two tested positive to the test. Despite the squeaky start, the educational officials pushed ahead with a mock SAT for high school seniors last Thursday.