Asia Today: S. Korea reports 279 cases, most in 5 months

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A visitor wearing a face mask walks near a banner showing precautions against the coronavirus at the Gyeongbok Palace, one of South Korea's well-known landmarks, in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

SEOUL – South Korea has reported 279 new coronavirus cases in the highest daily jump since early March, as fears grow about a massive outbreak in the greater capital region.

The figures released by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Sunday brought the national caseload to 15,318, including 305 deaths.

The number of new cases is the highest since 367 on March 8, when the country was concentrating public health tools and personnel nationwide to bring an outbreak in the less populated southern region under control.

The KCDC said 253 of the new cases came from the Seoul metropolitan area, home to 26 million people, where health authorities have been struggling to stem transmissions linked to churches, nursing homes, schools, restaurants and door-to-door salespeople.

Infections were also reported in other major cities such as Busan and Daegu, which was the epicenter of the previous crisis in late February and March when hundreds of new cases were reported each day.

During a virus meeting, President Moon Jae-in called for “pan-national” efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the capital region. He also instructed officials to review plans for sharing hospital capacities between Seoul and nearby towns to ensure swift transport of patients so that a spike of cases in one area doesn’t overwhelm its hospital system.

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo urged people to stay home on Monday, a special holiday the government had drawn up with hopes of spurring domestic consumption, and for residents in Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi province to avoid visiting other parts of the country for two weeks.

The COVID-19 resurgence in a region with 10 times more people than Daegu is a rude awakening for a country that has been eager to tout its hard-won gains against the virus.