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Despite falling new cases, cluster infections continue in Korea

Shim Hyun-tai  Published 2020.03.18  14:52  Updated 2020.03.18 14:52

공유
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- Deputy head of COVID-19 ad hoc force goes into voluntary self-quarantine

Korea confirmed 93 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, containing daily occurrences to below 100 for fourth consecutive days, but officials remained alert against continued cluster infections.

The total number of new coronavirus patients reached 8,413 as of midnight Tuesday, according to the public health authorities. During Tuesday, 139 patients were discharged from medical institutes across the nation, and three patients have died of respiratory disease, raising fatalities to 84.

Vice Minister of Health and Welfare Kim Kang-lip, who doubles as the chief coordinator of the government’s task force to deal with COVID-19, went into a preventive self-quarantine on Wednesday. Kim reportedly met with the head of the Bundang Jesaeng Hospital in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, where a group of people, including its director, were confirmed to have been infected by the new coronavirus.

Seongnam city officials said that Lee Young-sang, the hospital director, developed symptoms such as coughing and runny-nose on Monday and gave a sample for testing on Thursday, which showed a positive response.

Vice Health-Welfare Minister Kim attended a meeting with hospital heads last Friday, and all participants in the meeting are also quarantining themselves.

A total of 29 patients were confirmed of infection at the Bundang Jesaeng Hospital since the first confirmer appeared in March. The confirmed patients are two doctors, nine nurses, six nursing assistants, one nursing administration official, one clinical pathologist, seven patients, two guardians, and one visitor.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 spread in Korea is shifting from the southeastern region of Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province to Seoul and its vicinity. A total of 130 cases were confirmed at a call center in Guro-gu, Seoul, and 50 members of the River of Grace Church in Seongnam, south of Seoul.

The confirmed cases are expected to increase as investigations are currently underway for those who contacted the confirmed patients.

Professor Choi Won-suk of the Infectious Disease Department at Korea University Ansan Hospital said that the outbreak pattern tends to change over time. The initial epicenter was Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province. Smaller but more frequent cluster infections are occurring in the capital city and its satellite towns.

The pattern of the influx of confirmed patients from overseas has also changed, as Europe has been replacing China as the largest sender of suspected patients.

According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27 out of 55 confirmed Koreans had visited Europe, compared with 16 patients who arrived here from China. From Thursday, all Koreans and foreigners entering the nation Korea from overseas should be checked for fever or respiratory symptoms during the quarantine process.

Also, they must provide contact information and address of residence and install self-diagnosis application to report for possible symptoms in the future.

To cushion the pandemic’s impact on the nation’s economy, the government and ruling Democratic Party of Korea agreed to increase emergency budget spending drastically from the already approved 11.7 trillion won ($9.4 billion).

At a hurriedly-arranged meeting on Wednesday, former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon, who also heads a committee to get over the COVID-19 crisis, said that the situation of COVID-19 infection has changed drastically, but the supplementary budget failed to reflect the changes.

Rep. Lee In-young, floor leader of DPK, said the current crisis is graver than the 1997 Asian currency crisis and 2015 MERS epidemic combined.

As of midnight Tuesday, the nation has tested a total of 295,647 people, aside from the confirmed cases. Among the total, 279,301 tested negative with the other 16,346 people under analysis.

shim531@docdocdoc.co.kr

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