World

South Korea's Parliament closed over virus fears

Some lawmakers in self-quarantine as the country recorded more than 400 new infections yesterday

SEOUL: South Korea's Parliament was shut down yesterday and a group of lawmakers were in self-quarantine as the country recorded more than 400 new coronavirus infections.

The country endured one of the worst early outbreaks of Covid-19 outside China before bringing it broadly under control with extensive tracing and testing but is now battling several clusters mostly linked to Protestant churches.

Yesterday's 441 new cases were mostly in the greater Seoul area and are the latest in a series of near six-month highs after several weeks with numbers generally in the 30s and 40s.

SELF-ISOLATION

The National Assembly was closed after a photojournalist who covered a ruling party meeting on Wednesday was later tested and confirmed to have contracted Covid-19.

The result prompted more than 10 top Democrats - including the party chairman and its parliamentary leader - to undergo tests of their own and go into self-isolation.

Yesterday was the 14th consecutive day of triple-digit increases in case numbers, bringing the country's total to 18,706.

The largest current cluster is centred on the Sarang Jeil church in Seoul, headed by a controversial right-wing pastor who is a leading figure in protests against President Moon Jae-in.

Pastor Jun Kwang-hun spoke at an anti-government rally earlier this month in defiance of calls to avoid large gatherings and has since tested positive.

The authorities have filed police complaints against him, accusing him of deliberately hindering efforts to contain the pandemic.

Meanwhile, city officials planned to test 500 residents at a temporary site in front of an apartment block and sent a team of specialists to investigate how people on five different floors got infected, an official said.

About 28 of the 436 tested proved to have the virus, with eight of them living in apartments right above one another.

"Seoul city is conducting a first on-site investigation," said Ms Park Yoo-mi, a general director of the city government.

Experts in areas from epidemiology to construction, as well as the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), have been drafted in to uncover the route of infection, Ms Park added.

A study in China this year found virus traces in the bathroom of a vacant flat above that of some infected tenants, suggesting the possibility of transmission as an aerosol through sewage pipes.

The virus was more likely to have spread through the elevators of the Seoul apartment block than its vents, said KCDC official Kwon Jun-wook.

"The possibility is not seen as high for the transmission route through the ventilation openings," he added, citing experts. - AFP, REUTERS

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