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South Korea fighting 'second wave' of COVID-19 as WHO reports record daily rise in global cases

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By Alessio Dellanna  with AP
South Korea started to record around 40 to 50 new cases per day at the end of May.
South Korea started to record around 40 to 50 new cases per day at the end of May.   -   Copyright  Lee Jin-man/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

South Korea is going through a second wave of coronavirus, health officials warned on Monday.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said the country was now going through a second wave of the virus in a televised briefing.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported a record increase in global coronavirus cases on Sunday, with the total rising by 183,020 in a 24-hour period.

The WHO said the biggest increase was in North and South America. The increase in cases comes as countries begin to relax lockdown measures.

Korea had managed to control the outbreak with an active testing and contact tracing campaign, after reporting around 500 new cases per day in early March.

But since late May, it started to record around 40 to 50 new cases per day, mostly from the Seoul metropolitan area, where about half of South Korea’s 51 million people live.

Nearly 200 infections were linked to employees at a door-to-door sales company in the capital, which mostly hired people over 60.

Another 70 cases were traced to a table tennis club in another part of Seoul, where members also transmitted the virus at a church.

Another cluster has been reported in the central city of Daejeon, suggesting the virus has begun to spread more broadly.

There's also been a recent increase in imported cases, which prompted authorities to halt providing new visas for travellers from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
COVID-19 cases in South KoreaKorea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The mayor of Seoul, Park Won-soon, said the city may reimpose stronger social distancing measures if the daily increase in infections doesn't slow to an average of 30 over the next three days.

“If Seoul gets penetrated (by the virus), the entire Republic of Korea gets penetrated,” he said Monday in a televised briefing, referring to South Korea by its formal name.

An encouraging sign arrived on Monday, when South Korea reported fewer than 20 cases for the first time in nearly a month.

But the mayor warned the country risks having as many as 800 new cases a day a month from now if it fails to stem current trends in transmissions.

Park Won-soon said the basic reproduction number of virus carriers, which measures the number of infections caused by an individual, has reached nearly 1.8 for the period between April 30 and June 11. Any number above one indicates a growing epidemic.