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Health News

Call for mass testing in South Korea amid rising third wave of virus

SEOUL (Reuters) - The governor of South Korea’s most populous province called for mass testing for coronavirus on Wednesday, as daily new cases centred in the densely populated Seoul area held at levels unseen since the outbreaks began earlier this year.

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South Korea is suffering a third wave of coronavirus outbreaks, and over the past week new cases have been consistently around 600.

The daily tally on Wednesday, at 686 new infections, matched the level posted on March 2, and was the second highest recorded, though well below the 909 confirmed on Feb. 29, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

The majority of the new cases have been reported in the capital city of Seoul, the neighbouring port city of Incheon, and Gyeonggi Province, which is home to 13.5 million people and surrounds both cities.

Gyeonggi Governor Lee Jae-myung called for mass testing in parts of his province and the greater Seoul area including Incheon in order to isolate potential spreaders.

“Since the confirmed cases of unknown origin are too widely hidden, it is difficult to trace the source of infection only from those who come forth to get tested,” Lee said in a statement issued after an emergency meeting that was also attended by President Moon Jae-in. “We plan to adopt a method of preemptive and intensive testing by selecting a specific area or a region.”

The U.S. military command in South Korea apologised after photos showed people without masks dancing close together, and closed the entertainment spots on two bases where the pictures were taken.

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The recent events “displayed poor judgment and actions inconsistent” with the command’s tenets and virus-prevention measures, U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said in a statement.

The South Korean government has signed deals with four global drugmakers as part of a programme to procure COVID-19 vaccines for 44 million people.

President Moon said it was “sufficient to bring herd immunity” but urged officials to buy more vaccines just in case.

The health ministry had said shipments would begin no later than March, and vaccinations could start in the first half of next year depending on a number of factors, including how well they worked elsewhere, their safety, the spread of COVID-19, and public demand.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha; Editing by Stephen Coates, Angus MacSwan & Simon Cameron-Moore

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