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Medical workers prepare to conduct Covid-19 tests on all inmates at Dongbu Detention Center in Seoul, South Korea on January 5. Yonhap/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

South Korea will test every prisoner held in the country’s 52 detention facilities for Covid-19 after a cluster of cases emerged at a detention center in the capital Seoul.

Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho announced the plan at a briefing Wednesday. Yoon said that prisoners at 11 facilities had already been tested and, so far, no positive cases had been reported. Prisoners at the other 41 facilities have not yet been tested, Yoon said. 

Viruses can spread easily in prisons because of their small, cramped quarters and lack of fresh air. The cluster in Seoul’s Dongbu Detention Center exploded in just weeks. It was detected in mid-December, and authorities have now found 1,118 cases tied to the detention center, mostly among the prison population. The facility housed 2,292 inmates when the first cases were identified.

Justice Ministry official Kim Jae-sul said the detention center was overcrowded when the cluster was detected, which would make it easier for the virus to spread. Yoon, the Health Ministry official, said 972 prisoners have been transferred to different facilities, lowering the population density.

New cases: South Korea identified 809 local and 31 imported coronavirus cases on Tuesday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said in statement. Of those, 567 cases were found in the Seoul metropolitan area.

Though cases are slowly declining, a winter surge had authorities scrambling to find new hospital beds, especially in Seoul. Yoon said authorities had “secured” more beds for Covid-19 patients and that there were now a total of 177 ICU beds available for coronavirus treatment nationwide.

To date, 65,818 cases of Covid-19 have been identified in South Korea, killing 1,027 people.