South Korea battles to contain coronavirus outbreak in prison

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean authorities scrambled to contain a cluster of coronavirus infections in a Seoul prison as inmates waved signs through barred windows pleading for help.

There were 1,050 new cases nationally as of Tuesday midnight, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said on Wednesday, bringing the total pandemic tally to 59,773 with 879 people having died.

A prison in southeastern Seoul had 771 inmates and 21 staff infected, bringing the total number of infections linked to the facility to 792, Yonhap news agency reported, citing the justice ministry.

Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae on Tuesday visited the prison and ordered the separation of infected inmates from those who were not and the expansion of granting parole to exemplary prisoners, the ministry said in a statement.

Meanwhile, media displayed pictures of the inmates holding up signs reading, “Please save us.”

The KDCA had said an inmate with underlying conditions had died this week from COVID-19.

Authorities could further tighten social distancing rules this weekend as year-end travels increased the risk of more confirmed cases, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a government meeting.

“We have relatively low rate of confirmed cases to population, but about 40% of the cumulative confirmed cases occurred in the past month,” Chung said. “This wave of infections is becoming the biggest crisis.”

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