The accumulated number of coronavirus outbreaks in Korea totaled 2,337 on Friday, 39 days after the nation confirmed its first patient on Jan. 20.
According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province continued to report the majority of the 571 new cases with 447 and 64, respectively. Among other areas, South Chungcheong Province (23), Seoul (six), Busan (four) and Gyeonggi Province (10) also saw steady increases in patients.
Amid unrelenting growth of COVID-19 patients, Cheong Wa Dae released its first official statement in response to the public calls for the government to ban entry of all Chinese nationals.
"Some people are criticizing the government for not banning the entry of Chinese national for fear of possible diplomatic backlash from China," the statement said. "The government is implementing a special entry procedure rather than total bans on Chinese entry after taking into account such measures’ effects on the quarantine and the public’s safety."
As far as these factors are concerned, the government’s special entry procedure is working effectively, Cheong Wa Dae Spokesperson Kang Min-seok added.
"At present, all travelers must present their country of residence and contact information to the authorities," Kang said. "Thanks to the effective operation, we have not seen any confirmed cases that originated from China in the last four days."
This shows that Chinese entrants are being managed reliably, he added.
Kang also noted that the number of Chinese nationals that have recently entered the country has significantly decreased.
"Recently, the number of Koreans heading to China is near twice as many as the Chinese who try to enter our country," Kang said. "Prohibiting all entry to prevent Chinese from entering Korea, which has now decreased to almost 1,000 people, can cause more damage to Koreans."
Kang also stressed that the government's relevant measure is in line with the World Health Organization's guidelines. "A common view in the international community is that infectious diseases can be overcome not by containment but by cross-border cooperation," he pointed out.
However, the statistics cited by Kang were later found to be not the number of Koreans going to China but that of Chinese national going back to China.
Cheong Wa Dae admitted its mistake and Kang corrected the facts by adding that the number of Koreans leaving to China is increasing and the number of Chinese coming from Korea is decreasing. “On Thursday, 1,093 Chinese entered Korea, while 1,406 Koreans left for China,” Kang said.
Kang stopped short of commenting on some Chinese provinces' ensuing quarantine measures for travelers from Korea.
In China, South Korean quarantine reportedly surpassed 300 on Friday. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, five provinces -- Shandong, Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang and Fujian – are quarantining travelers from Korea for 14 days, while some local news reports have claimed that other local governments inside china have also tightened restrictions on entry into Korea.
Various foreign countries have also put a ban on entry or quarantine measures for travelers coming from Korea. The number of countries taking up such steps increased from 43 on Thursday to 58 Friday, which now accounts for almost a quarter of the global community.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization declared that the new coronavirus epidemic was at a "decisive point" as countries across the globe battled to contain the deadly outbreak.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that if countries act aggressively now, they can contain this virus, prevent people from getting sick, and save lives. However, the WHO maintained its cautious stance, falling short of labeling the novel coronavirus as a global epidemic.
As of 5 p.m., Friday, the number of people checked for the virus and under quarantine in Korea reached 81,167. The nation has screened 78,830 people for COVID-19 since Jan. 3, with 48,593 testing negative and 27 discharged from hospital fully recovered. Aside from the 13 dead patients, 2,297 are receiving treatments in isolation.