South Korea has confirmed 205 new cases of coronavirus – the first time it has been above 200 since early September – the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said on Saturday, as a new law fining those not wearing masks in public started to be enforced.
Of the new cases, 166 were locally transmitted and 39 imported. More than 65 percent of the locally transmitted cases were from Seoul and Gyeonggi province, a densely populated region near the capital.
Health authorities attributed the rise in cases to clusters of infections linked to private gatherings and public facilities, which complicated efforts to identify transmission routes. Both of South Korea’s most serious outbreaks of COVID-19 – in February and August – have been linked to church services.
President Moon Jae-in urged authorities and local governments to raise their awareness of the disease’s spread, and reinforce guidelines such as mandatory mask wearing.
“As we are the point where there are increased travel and meetings, it would be difficult to maintain the current quarantine stage” of the nation’s social-distancing scheme, Moon said in a Facebook post.
“If we lower our guard and disregard quarantine measures, our jobs and daily lives would be put at risk, and greater damage and suffering may come,” he added.
Fines for those found without a mask in public began being imposed on Friday, following a gradual rise of daily coronavirus cases, which have been in triple digits for the past seven days.
People caught without masks in public venues, including nightclubs, malls, theme parks and hair salons, face fines of up to 100,000 won ($89.75), while the operators of those places could pay as much as three million won in fines.
Four South Korean football players and one staff member tested positive for COVID-19, the Yonhap news agency reported on Saturday, citing the Korea Football Association, adding that none of the five currently showed any symptoms.
The latest daily count was slightly higher than Friday’s 191, taking the country’s total number of cases to 28,338 with 492 deaths, according to the KDCA.
The government is in final talks with global drugmakers for potential COVID-19 vaccines as it seeks to secure supplies to cover 60 percent of its population this year.