South Korea’s coronavirus infections are back “in full swing” and spreading nationwide after members of a church attended a political demonstration, authorities said on Thursday, threatening one of the world’s COVID-19 success stories.
The Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 288 new cases as of Wednesday, marking a week of triple-digit daily increases, although down slightly from the previous day’s 297.
“This is a grave situation that could possibly lead to a nationwide pandemic,” Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told a briefing.
According to KCDC deputy director Kwon Jun-wook, without aggressive contact tracing, the country could experience the types of spikes and continued infections witnessed in the U.S. and Europe.
“Consider the COVID-19 pandemic now to be in full-swing.”
South Korea was one of the first countries outside China to see an explosive spread of the new coronavirus, however intensive tracing and testing had brought infections under control and quelled a subsequent series of spikes.
The latest outbreak is driven by hundreds of infections among members of a church run by a far-right preacher.
They had attended an anti-government protest in Seoul on Aug. 15, the 75th anniversary of Japan’s World War Two surrender and the end of colonial rule.
Mr Kwon urged all demonstrators to get tested immediately at nearby public health clinics to protect the vulnerable around them.
“The demonstration may have been a catalyst for the nationwide outbreak, as churchgoers chartered buses to the capital from their homes across the country, including the southern port of Busan,’’ Mr Kwon said.