The news comes as South Korean authorities were starting to lift some of the preventive restrictions. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) recorded 34 new cases, the highest figure since April 9.
President Moon Jae-in told the nation that a new wave of cases shows the virus can spread broadly at anytime.
He said: “It’s not over until it’s over. While keeping enhanced alertness until the end, we must never lower our guard regarding epidemic prevention,
“We are in a prolonged war. I ask everyone to comply with safety precautions and rules until the situation is over even after resuming daily lives.”
The South Korean leader warned of a second wave late this year.
The country’s death toll is currently 256.
Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said the government will revise its announcement it would start reopening schools in stages from May 13 after evaluating the consequences of the nightclub cases for two to three days.
The country has in place thorough contact tracing and tracking apps which, along with widespread testing, have helped keep the pandemic under control without the need for a stringent lockdown.
As part of a long-term fight against coronavirus, the KCDC will be given greater authority and renamed the Disease Control and Prevention Administration, Mr Moon said.
Local governments will create their own pandemic response forces with more experts.
“We will also push to establish hospitals specialised in treating infectious diseases and a national infectious disease research centre,” Mr Moon said.
“These tasks are very urgent if we are to prepare for the second epidemic wave that experts predict will hit this fall or winter.”
South Korea was the first country to report a major coronavirus outbreak outside China.
The daily figure of new cases had stayed around 10 or less in recent weeks, with no or very few domestic infections over the past 10 days.
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New fears of a second outbreak were sparked just as the government began to lift some social distancing measures and transitioning to fully reopen schools and businesses.
The country had started to move from intensive social distancing to “distancing in daily life.”
The new approach was triggered by a case of a man in his 20s who had visited a string of Seoul nightclubs before testing positive for the virus last week.
At least 24 out of the 26 new domestic infections were traced back to that man, bringing the infections linked to the case to 54, the KCDC said.
The KCDC said officials are locating about 1,900 people who have been to the clubs, which could be increased to 7,000.
It has instructed anyone who attended the parties last week to self-isolate for 14 days and be tested.
“This case is once again showing a rapid spread of the virus as well as high infectiousness,” KCDC director Jeong Eun-kyeong told a briefing.
“We’re in a battle against time to head off additional transmissions in the local communities.”
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