South Korea sees largest spike in virus cases in nearly two months

The country has been held up as a global model in how to curb the virus and has begun to ease restrictions, but is now rushing to contain new infections as life returns to normal. (AFP)
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Updated 28 May 2020

South Korea sees largest spike in virus cases in nearly two months

  • Officials announced 79 new cases on Thursday
  • It was the largest increase since April 5

SEOUL: South Korea reported its biggest spike in coronavirus cases in nearly two months on Thursday, as officials scramble to tackle fresh clusters that have raised concerns of a possible second wave of infections.
The country has been held up as a global model in how to curb the virus and has begun to ease restrictions, but is now rushing to contain new infections as life returns to normal.
Officials announced 79 new cases Thursday — taking its total to 11,344 — with most fresh infections from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area.
It was the largest increase since 81 cases were announced on April 5.
An outbreak at a warehouse of e-commerce firm Coupang in Bucheon, west of Seoul, has seen 69 cases, said the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Around 4,100 workers and visitors to the building were under self-isolation, with more than 80 percent tested so far, vice health minister Kim Gang-lip told reporters.
“We are expecting the number of new cases linked to the warehouse to continue rising until today as we wrap up related tests,” he added.
Social distancing rules have been relaxed in South Korea and facilities such as museums and churches have reopened. Some professional sports — including baseball and soccer — started new seasons earlier this month, albeit behind closed doors.
Students have been returning to classes since last week, although some schools were forced to turn away their pupils over concerns of new virus cases in their neighborhood.
The country endured one of the worst early outbreaks of the disease outside mainland China, and while it never imposed a compulsory lockdown, strict social distancing had been widely observed since March.
But it appears to have brought its outbreak under control thanks to an extensive “trace, test and treat” program.


US accuses Hezbollah of storing explosive chemical in Europe

Updated 45 min 13 sec ago

US accuses Hezbollah of storing explosive chemical in Europe

  • Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound commonly used as a fertilizer, but it can be used to make explosives
  • It can also be dangerous in storage, as demonstrated by the huge explosion last month in Beirut

WASHINGTON: Militant group Hezbollah has stored chemicals that can be used to make explosives in several European countries, a senior State Department official said Thursday as he appealed to countries in Europe and elsewhere to impose bans on the organization.
Hezbollah operatives have moved ammonium nitrate from Belgium to France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Switzerland in recent years and are suspected to still be storing the material throughout Europe, said Nathan Sales, the State Department coordinator for counter-terrorism.
Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound commonly used as a fertilizer, but it can be used to make explosives. It can also be dangerous in storage, as demonstrated by the huge explosion last month in the Lebanese capital of Beirut.
Sales, without offering evidence, said the U.S. believes that Iran-backed Hezbollah has since 2012 transported ammonium nitrate around Europe in first aid kits with cold packs that contain the compound. The United States believes these supplies are still in place throughout Europe, possibly in Greece, Italy and Spain.
“Why would Hezbollah stockpile ammonium nitrate on European soil?" he said. “The answer is clear: Hezbollah put these weapons in place so it could conduct major terrorist attacks whenever it or its masters in Tehran deemed necessary."
Sales made the remarks in an online forum hosted by the American Jewish Committee, which has called upon more countries to ban Hezbollah and its operations.
The US has designated Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organization since 1997, but some countries distinguish between the organization's military wing and the political wing.
The EU lists Iran-backed Hezbollah’s military wing as a banned terrorist group, but not its political wing, which has been part of Lebanese governments in recent years. Some individual countries, including Germany and the UK, have outlawed the group in its entirety. Sales called on more countries to do the same.
Hezbollah is a “unitary organization that cannot be subdivided into a military and so-called political wing," he said. Without a full ban, the group can still raise money and recruit operatives. “Hezbollah is one organization," he said. "It is a terrorist organization.”