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South Korea says it is battling 2nd wave of coronavirus around Seoul

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Health authorities in South Korea said for the first time on Monday it is in the midst of a “second wave” of novel coronavirus infections around Seoul, driven by small but persistent outbreaks stemming from a holiday in May.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) had previously said South Korea’s first wave had never really ended.

But on Monday, KCDC director Jeong Eun-kyeong said it had become clear that a holiday weekend in early May marked the beginning of a new wave of infections focused in the densely populated greater Seoul area, which had previously seen few cases.

“In the metropolitan area, we believe that the first wave was from March to April as well as February to March,” Jeong said at a regular briefing. “Then we see that the second wave which was triggered by the May holiday has been going on.”

At the end of February, South Korea reported a peak of more than 900 cases in a day, in the first large outbreak of the coronavirus outside of China.

But just as the country announced it would be easing social distancing guidelines in early May, new cases spiked, driven in part by infections among young people who visited nightclubs and bars in Seoul over the holiday weekend.

“We originally predicted that the second wave would emerge in fall or winter,” Jeong said. “Our forecast turned out to be wrong. As long as people have close contact with others, we believe that infections will continue.”

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon told a briefing that while daily numbers may be at manageable levels, if recent infection rates continue the city could soon see hundreds of cases a day.

As of midnight Sunday, South Korea reported 17 new coronavirus cases, the first time in nearly a month that daily new cases had dropped below 20. It was a drop from the 48 and 67 cases reported in the previous two days.

South Korea has reported a total of 12,438 cases, with 280 deaths.

When asked about the comment about a second wave, Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist and the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 technical lead, said the global health agency is encouraging “all countries to be at the ready.”

She said many countries that saw some success in tackling COVID-19 are now seeing an increase in cases, pointing to cases linked to things like religious events or dormitories for workers.

“Any opportunity that the virus has to take hold, it will.”

Mike Ryan, director of the WHO emergencies program, said he had not heard the second wave comments from Korean officials, but noted that his understanding is that the “vast majority” of the new cases were linked to existing and recognized clusters.

Ryan said South Korea is “still on track” with its disease control efforts, but added as with all countries, there is still a risk.

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