S Korea mulls stricter measures as virus spreads

South Korea has reported 332 new cases of the coronavirus, its ninth straight day of triple-digit increases, as government officials mull unprecedented economic restrictions to slow a resurgence that threatens to ruin what had been heralded as a rare success story against the virus.

Saturday was the second consecutive day the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a daily jump of over 300, pushing the nine-day total to 2,232. The national caseload is now at 17,002, including 309 deaths.

While most of the new cases came from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, which has been at the center of the viral surge in recent weeks, infections were also reported in practically every major city and town, raising concerns that transmissions are slipping out of control.

Churches had been a major source of new cases in the Seoul area before authorities shut them this week while raising social distancing restrictions, something they had resisted for months out of economic concerns. Nightclubs, karaoke bars, buffet restaurants and computer gaming cafes in the greater capital region have also closed, and spectators have been banned again from baseball and soccer games.

During a virus briefing Saturday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the government is considering expanding such measures nationwide as health workers struggle to track transmissions and predict infection routes.

KCDC Director Jeong Eun-kyeong has endorsed even stronger restrictions. If there’s no sign that the virus spread is slowing after the weekend, she said the country should consider elevating social distancing measures to “Level 3,” which includes prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people, shutting schools, halting professional sports and advising private companies to have employees work from home.

As of Friday afternoon, more than 700 infections have been linked to a Seoul church led by a vocal critic of the country’s president. Sarang Jeil Church pastor Jun Kwang-hun was hospitalized with COVID-19 on Monday after participating in an anti-government protest last week where he shared a microphone on stage with other activists.

Police raided the church late Friday while trying to secure a more comprehensive list of its members who remain out of contact. Health workers have used mobile phone location data to identify some 15,000 people who spent more than 30 minutes on the street during the protest last Saturday and have been alerting them to get tested. (AP)

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