Korea reported more than 500 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday for the first time since early March when a new Christian sect’s mass gathering in Daegu led to the first explosive outbreaks.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 583 new virus cases, including 553 local infections, pushing the cumulative caseload to 32,318 as of midnight Wednesday. Imported cases increased back up to 30, up one from the previous day.

The figure also topped the massive outbreak resulting from anti-government rallies in late August when authorities confirmed 441 cases in a single day.

Health officials have been trying to curb the third explosive spread in the run-up to the national college exam on Dec. 4 by increasing the nation’s social distancing scheme to Level 2. However, their attempts are likely to fail as cluster infections occur at daily living spaces and events -- private gatherings, public facilities, hospitals, and the military boot camps – and throughout the country.

Infectious disease experts predict that the spread of Covid-19 will continue for some time, and countermeasures such as an additional upgrade of the social distancing regime are necessary.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare has repeatedly raised the social distancing scheme to the third-highest level in the five-tier system in just a week but may need to consider upgrading it once again if the current growth trend continues, the experts said.

The public health authorities’ comment also reflected a growing sense of crisis on Thursday.

“Today, the number of Covid-19 confirmed cases exceeded 500,” Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo said at a daily task force meeting. “It has been 18 days since the number surpassed 100 on Nov. 8 and about eight months since we confirmed 518 cases on March 6.”

More than 100 cases have been confirmed at a sauna in an apartment complex, over 50 at an aerobics academy, and about 60 at a military training camp, he noted.

Park also emphasized the severity of infection among young people.

“The spread of infection among the younger generation is alarming. The share of infections among people in their 20s and 30s has increased to 28 percent in less than a month,” Park said. “There are also 19 critically ill young patients who need ventilators.”

Park stressed that infections could occur anywhere people live, saying the nation has reached a situation where “it is not unusual to infect and be infected by any people and in any place.”

“As the third mass outbreaks are accelerating, a thorough social distancing is more urgent,” Park said. “Selfish behavior can lead to the infection of not only such individuals but their family members, friends and co-workers.”

The nation will overcome this third viral wave only when the country unites all together based on a spirit of community that cares for each other and mature citizenship, he added.

Park stopped short of expanding the current Level 2 social distancing nationwide or a possible upgrade to Level 2.5 in some hot spots, including the Seoul metro region.

Two more people died of Covid-19 to lift the death toll to 515. An additional 125 patients were freed from quarantine with full recovery, increasing the total to 26,950. The country’s total test numbers also came close to 3 million, with the nation testing 2,988,046 people since Jan. 3.

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