Korea’s daily Covid-19 tally soared back above 500 for the first time in 10 days as health authorities are tracing the development of a mass outbreak from unauthorized missionary training facilities.
The Christian training schools, run by a missionary society called IM, which owns a sprawling network of more than 20 similar educational facilities throughout the country, have recently emerged as new coronavirus hotspots to become concerns of health officials and the general public alike.
Officials confirmed the first cluster outbreak tied to the missionary society at IEM School in the Daejeon, some 160 km south of Seoul. The school experienced a cluster outbreak over the weekend, with the number of cases tied to the facility climbing to 171 as of Tuesday afternoon, up 46 from a day ago.
IM-related cluster infections also occurred at TCS Ace International School in Gwangju, a southwestern metropolis, which has confirmed 100 cases.
With cases tied to the schools rising, authorities have expressed concerns that the outbreak could explode in a way similar to earlier high profile group infections centered on other religious institutions -- the Shincheonji Church of Jesus and the BTJ Center for All Nations, all Christian churches of little known sects.
“Today, the number of confirmed cases again exceeded 500,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said during a daily task force meeting. “Notably, authorities have confirmed a large-scale group infection at an unauthorized facility affiliated with the Gwangju IM.”
Since the government has confirmed related facilities in various locations across the country, other areas are not safe, either, he added.
Chung stressed that the quarantine authorities and local governments must do their utmost to block further proliferation by quickly checking all relevant IM facilities.
Meanwhile, the government will announce a detailed implementation plan for national vaccination against Covid-19 on Thursday.
The implementation plan will include priority vaccination targets, vaccination institution, implementation standards, and post-vaccination reaction management system.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) expect to form a collective immunity in November by providing a free vaccination to 70 percent of the population between February and September.
Health officials plan to start with workers at nursing hospitals, elderly medical welfare facilities, and high-risk medical institutions in the first quarter, and citizens aged 65 and over and workers at home-based elderly welfare facilities in the second quarter, and those with chronic diseases and adults aged 19-64 in the third quarter.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) confirmed 559 new patients, including 516 local infections. The cumulative caseload rose to 76,429 as of midnight Tuesday. Imported cases increased to 43 from 16 reported in the previous day.
The nation reported seven more deaths, pushing the cumulative death toll to 1,378 and the fatality rate to 1.80 percent. An additional 685 patients fully recovered and returned to their everyday lives, increasing the total to 65,478. The country has tested 5,469,247 people since Jan. 3 last year.