A medical worker collects a specimen for coronavirus testing at a temporary clinic in front of Seoul Station on Sunday. (Yonhap)
South Korea confirmed nine more cases of contagious variants of the new coronavirus on Monday, bringing the variants' total caseload to 27, as health authorities remain vigilant against the possibility that highly transmissible new variants could spark another uptick in virus cases here.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said the nine people were confirmed to have been inflected with the virus variants over the past week. Of them, four arrived in South Korea from Britain, three were from South Africa and two from Brazil.
Health authorities tracked people who came into contact with the patients, but there have been no more confirmed cases of the variants, the KDCA said.
The recent emergence of several COVID-19 mutations has complicated the global fight against the pandemic because they are more transmissible than the original one.
Kwon Joon-wook, deputy director of the Central Disease Control Headquarters, has said the nation could be drawn back into a "nightmare" similar to that of last December because of the variants.
"Mutant viruses are more contagious than existing ones," Kwon said during a press briefing last Saturday.
While the reproduction rate of the coronavirus here stands at around 0.82, it would jump up to 1.2 if the mutant virus from Britain spreads widely, Kwon said. The rate measures the number of people that the average patient infects.
South Korea has extended the ban on passenger flights arriving from Britain, which has been in place since Dec. 23, to block the new virus variant that was first identified in Britain.
The KDCA has conducted further tests, known as next-generation sequencing, on arrivals from Britain and South Africa. The method provides an effective way to identify coronavirus strains and other pathogens without prior knowledge of the organisms.
Also, all foreign entrants must present papers showing negative PCR tests taken within 72 hours of their departure to the nation.
The country added 437 more COVID-19 cases on Monday, raising the total caseload to 75,521, according to the KDCA. (Yonhap)