|A logistics center operated by Coupang in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province / Yonhap|
By Jun Ji-hye
A logistics center operated by e-commerce platform giant Coupang has emerged as a new hotbed for the spread of COVID-19, with the number of cases linked to the facility nearing 40, according to the health authorities, Wednesday.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) is carrying out an epidemiological investigation based on the presumption that the logistics center in Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province, has not abided by basic social distancing rules aimed at containing the spread of the contagious disease.
The rules call for people to stay home when they feel ill, keep a distance of about two meters between each other and wear face masks, among others.
The authorities are conducting coronavirus tests on all employees at the facility to find any additional infected persons promptly in a bid to stop any further spread of the virus. The estimated number of employees there is 3,600.
"Thirty-six COVID-19 patients were traced to the Bucheon logistics center as of 9 a.m., Wednesday. The number of patients is likely to continue to increase," Vice Health and Welfare Minister Kim Kang-lip said during a media briefing. "It is presumed that the logistics center has not complied with the basic social distancing rules properly, such as letting workers who feel sick stay home for three to four days."
The first patient at the center was a woman in her 40s. She tested positive, May 23, after attending the first birthday party of a child of an acquaintance that was held in a buffet restaurant in Bucheon, May 9.
The authorities said the patient was believed to begin showing symptoms associated with the new coronavirus, May 13, but continued to work at the logistics center.
The birthday party has been linked to infections of at least 15 people, and the incident there was traced to Itaewon nightclubs where there was a previous outbreak.
The new wave of infections here began after a 29-year-old Korean man tested positive for the coronavirus, May 6, after visiting five nightclubs and bars in Itaewon.
According to local media reports, some workers at the logistics center have also claimed that they could not wear face masks at all times as they were pressured to complete work tasks.
In response to the incident, Coupang closed the center, Monday.
"We have been conducting strong disinfection measures at the facility," a Coupang official said. "We are also disinfecting goods ordered by customers before their delivery."
Amid a steady rise in nightclub-linked transmission, the KCDC reported the highest number of daily new virus cases in 49 days.
It said 40 new cases had been detected Tuesday, which brought the nation's total to 11,265. No new additional virus-linked deaths were reported, with the death toll remaining at 269.
Meanwhile, Kurly, another e-commerce company that operates Market Kurly, also announced later in the day that one of its workers tested positive for the virus after working at a logistics center in Seoul's Songpa District last Sunday.
The company shut down the center and began a disinfection protocol.