Seoul - South Korea is sending a medical team to the Middle East to tackle a coronavirus outbreak on oneof its ships on anti-piracy patrol while at home, new daily infections are hovering around record levels with 1,600 reported on Thursday. South Korea was for months a coronavirus success story as it kept outbreaks under control with testing, tracing and social distancing but the Delta variant has been fuelling a new wave of persistent infections in recent weeks.
The outbreak on the South Korean destroyer with some 300 service members on board operating in the Gulf of Aden is another head ache for the administration of President MoonJae-in. Moon has ordered medical experts with emergency equipment tofly to the region to contain the outbreak and get patients outif they have to, said presidential spokeswoman Park Kyung-mee. The Yonhap news agency, citing the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said six service members had tested positive for the coronavirus, while some 80 had developed some symptoms. The defence ministry said none on board the destroyer had been vaccinated as the unit had left in February, before the vaccination campaign began for military personnel. South Korea's foreign ministry and it diplomatic mission were communicating with authorities of the host country tofacilitate treatment and transport of any patients, ministry spokesman Choi Young-sam told a briefing. Choi did not identify the country. South Korea has recorded 173,511 coronavirus cases and 2,050deaths since the pandemic began, data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) showed. Only 30.8% of its 52 million people have received at leastone dose of a vaccine, while 12% have been fully vaccinated. Clusters of infections had been largely centred in thecapital Seoul and neighbouring areas but cases have spread tomore rural areas, adding to worries about the Delta variant. In response, the government tightened social distancing rules across most of the country on Wednesday, when authorities reported a daily record of 1,615 cases. The KDCA has been reporting 1,000 or more new daily cases since July 7 and authorities expect the trend to continue untilmid-August. But there has been no significant increase inhospitalisations or deaths, with a mortality rate of 1.18% andthe number of severe cases at 167 as of Wednesday, far belowlevels seen during the previous peak in December.