[2019-Novel Coronavirus] S. Korea expands Wuhan coronavirus watch zone to all of China

Lee Han-soo  Published 2020.01.25  20:22  Updated 2020.01.26 19:18


- Seoul also upgrades travel alert to ‘withdrawal’ level

South Korea has decided to expand its monitoring region for the infection of new coronavirus from Wuhan to all of China.

Based on the experience during the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) crisis in 2015, the health authorities seem to have somewhat successfully contained the new coronavirus infection -- at least so far -- that has originated from China.

The move is part of efforts by Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) to identify suspected patients of the Wuhan coronavirus even with the slightest signs of symptoms. The health authorities confirmed the second Korean infected by the coronavirus on Friday.

Such an expansion of the target area was also inevitable, as passengers might have moved from Wuhan to other cities and take planes there even though the Chinese government blocked all transportation to and from Wuhan.

“We will also take steps to strengthen case definitions for reporting and managing new coronavirus infections,” said Koh Jae-young, KCDC’s emergency communication officer. “The definition refers to guidelines used by airports and medical institutions to distinguish between ‘confirmed,’ ‘suspected’ and not suspected but needs further evaluation.’”

The agency is to distribute a revised case definition for expanding the contaminated area from Wuhan to China, Koh added.

If the case definition extends the contaminated area to entire China, all entrants from China, estimated to number more than 32,000 a day, should fill out a health status questionnaire.

“Although China has not yet announced the whole country as a possible contagious zone, we have extended our parameters as a preemptive measure,” Koh said. “Once a health questionnaire is written, the traveler can become more alert to new coronavirus and will be able to react faster if they start to show symptoms at home.”

KCDC said the two patients confirmed with the new coronavirus are now in stable conditions.

“No symptoms of pneumonia, except for a sore throat, are seen in both patients,” the KCDC said. “Besides, all of the 32 patients suspected of new coronavirus have been cleared now after testing negative for the virus.”

In line with the KCDC's decision, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also elevated its travel alert for Wuhan and the rest of Hubei Province from “yellow” (travel refrain) to “red” (travel withdrawal) on Saturday.

Although Korea has successfully held off the new coronavirus at bay, at least so far, the virus is terrorizing the international community as it continues to spread worldwide.

The new coronavirus has infected a total of 1,315 patients and taken the lives of 41 patients outside of Korea as of 9 a.m., Saturday. Of the total patients, 1,287 patients, and all deaths are known to have occurred in China.

Other affected countries include Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Macao, Japan, Vietnam Nepal, and the U.S. The new coronavirus has also finally penetrated the EU with three confirmed cases in France on Saturday.

China is also expanding its quarantine from Wuhan to its surrounding cities.

According to the Chinese media outlets, 16 cities around Wuhan have also been designated as blockade areas. At the same time, facilities such as the Forbidden City in Beijing, as well as tourist attractions and cultural facilities throughout China, are being closed.

Meanwhile, an expert at the KCDC pointed out that research and development accomplishments by scientists around the world would play a decisive role in minimizing the fallout.

“The situation in China seems to be much worse than the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak of 2003,” the KCDC official said, wanting to remain anonymous because it still is his personal opinion. “As of Saturday, Chinese authorities have blocked 50 million people in 16 cities."

The only silver lining in the dark cloud is that new coronavirus is being quickly taken apart thanks to the recent advancement of molecular biology and genomics that is incomparably advanced compared to 17 years ago, he added.

Conceding that the next several days will be crucial in stabilizing the situation, the official stressed that scientists around the world have been doing a lot of work since the Chinese authorities first released the gene sequences for the new coronavirus last week.

“The whole-genome sequence was analyzed and published, revealing the mechanism by which the virus infects the cell, while the origin of the new coronavirus has also been identified,” the official said. “Serological analysis and diagnostic development are also in progress.”

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