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South Korea seeks to contain smaller outbreaks as new coronavirus cases slow

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea on Thursday reported 114 new cases of the coronavirus and six more deaths, resuming a relative decline in new cases after a spike the day before.

A family wearing protective masks following an outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), walks on stepping-stones at a trail course in Cheongdo county, which has been designated as a ‘special care zone’ since the coronavirus outbreak, near Daegu in North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea, March 11, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The new cases bring the country’s total to 7,869, with 66 deaths, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said (KCDC), as health officials seek to track down and contain a number of new clusters of infections, including at a call center in the capital Seoul.

The numbers are far lower than the peak of 909 cases reported on Feb. 29, and health officials said the trend does appear to be slowing in what has been the largest outbreak in Asia outside of China.

Still, authorities say the coming days will be crucial in South Korea’s fight to contain the outbreak, and the government will double down on its efforts to prevent new clusters from spreading.

“It is too early to say we are overcoming the disease,” Yoon Tae-ho, director general for public health policy, said at a briefing.

“We are still witnessing sporadic outbreaks so we cannot lower our guard.”

Nineteen of the new cases reported on Thursday were in Seoul, where at least 102 people working at a call center have tested positive for the coronavirus, raising concerns about a wider outbreak in the capital.

Nearly 800 people working in the call center and 200 residents of the building have been tested, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said.

“Containing the spread from the call centre is decisive in blocking additional transmission of the coronavirus,” Park said. “We will focus all necessary personal and material support on the area.”

Seventy-three of the new cases were from the city of Daegu, the epicenter of the country’s outbreak.

Yoon urged South Koreans across the country to avoid public gatherings and maintain “social distancing” from other people.

The government also said it would expand fever screening and other monitoring measures for people arriving from certain European countries.

Reporting by Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Stephen Coates

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