Coronavirus Outbreak at E-Commerce Warehouse in South Korea Triggers Spike in New Cases

The deadly virus outbreak has created a major stir in recent times claiming the lives of more than 350,000 people globally

South Korea confirmed the highest daily number of the new coronavirus or COVID-19 cases in 49 days on Wednesday, as one of the nation's e-commerce companies battled an outbreak that is linked to a now-shuttered logistics facility.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) confirmed 40 new cases of the deadly novel virus as of midnight Tuesday, taking the total of the country to 11,265. A day earlier the nation recorded 19 new cases of the virus.

Cases Linked to the Logistics Center

People outside a supermarket in SouthKorea
People wait outside a supermarket in South Korea to buy face masks following the coronavirus outbreak in the country. BBC News/Screenshot

So far, at least 36 cases have been linked to an outbreak at the logistics center operated by SoftBank-backed e-commerce firm Coupang Corp in Bucheon, west of Seoul, the KCDC said. It was not immediately clear how many of the cases were reported in the last 24 hours.

About 3,600 people at the facility are being tested. The company said it closed the center on Monday and began the strongest disinfection measures recommended by authorities. Coupang benefited from the contactless trend driven by COVID-19 in South Korea, with orders surging for groceries and other products. The logistics center opened in early March and is in charge of deliveries to western Seoul, a spokeswoman said.

First Case Related to the Center Was Diagnosed on Saturday

The first case related to the center was diagnosed on Saturday and is suspected to be connected with a Seoul nightclub outbreak earlier this month. Health officials warned that cases linked to the center could rise. "We are very nervous about community infections and we are keeping a close eye on the situation," vice health minister Kim Kang-lip said at a briefing.

Kim said authorities suspect the logistics center did not comply with "basic" quarantine principles, adding that an investigation is underway. A spokeswoman for Coupang however said the center went through daily disinfection and all employees wore masks and gloves and had temperatures checked. Despite the spike in new cases, more than 2 million children returned to class on Wednesday, the latest in a phased opening of schools.

"What we are worried about now is that when kids go to school, they're naturally physically close to their friends and they have to eat together so they may be infected with coronavirus," said Chan Woong-jeon, the father of a 2nd grader who returned to Seryun Elementary School in Seoul on Wednesday. Park Hyeon-ji, a teacher at the school, said teachers had been trained on how to react to any outbreak. "We'll be able to take immediate action," she said.

(With agency inputs)

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