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Amid subdued new cases, Korea alert on cluster infections, foreign influxes

Lee Han-soo  Published 2020.03.22  12:21  Updated 2020.03.23 14:48

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Korea recorded new COVID-19 cases below 100 again on Saturday, while seeing almost three times higher number of patients leaving quarantine recovering from their symptoms.

The nation detected 98 new cases, bringing the total to 8,897 as of 0 o’clock Sunday, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). Hospitals discharged an additional 297 patients, bringing the total to 2,909 over the weekend.

Despite the continued increase in discharged patients, fatality crawled up to 105. In Korea, the virus has mostly preyed on the elderly and those with underlying diseases. The average mortality rate stood at 1.17 percent as of Saturday according to the KCDC. For those aged 80 and above, the fatality rate was the highest at 10.46 percent.

Of the 98 new cases, a majority of the cases came from Daegu (43) and North Gyeongsang Province (11), followed by Gyeonggi Province (16), Seoul (10), Daejeon (two). Other regions such as Gwangju, North and South Chungcheong Province, South Jeolla Province, and South Gyeongsang Province, reported one new COVID-19 patient.

About 60 percent of the confirmed cases have been linked to a branch of the Shincheonji religious sect in the southeastern city of Daegu, which is the nation’s fourth-largest city with a population of 2.5 million.

Asides from locally confirmed cases, the nation also saw 11 new confirmed cases from travelers coming into Korea. Beginning from Sunday, Korea began conducting COVID-19 tests on all arrivals from Europe and requiring even those with negative results to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine.

On Sunday, more than 8,510 people are to arrive in Korea from overseas. Of them, about 1,000 are from Europe, which has become a new epicenter of the pandemic, with Italy having recorded more than 4,820 deaths.

Among the arrivals from Europe, those with symptoms will get tested in separate quarantine facilities, while those without symptoms will be sent to temporary accommodations for tests in facilities near Seoul. If they test positive, they will be sent to hospitals or mild symptom treatment facilities depending on their health conditions.

Those with negative test results who have arrived here for a long-term stay will be required to self-isolate at home for two weeks. If they have no homes, they will be sent to government-arranged facilities. If foreigners arrive here from Europe for a short-term stay, they will not be put into quarantine. However, health authorities will check their health conditions daily by phone.

Anyone, either Korean national or foreigner, who violates the rules on self-isolation will be punished under Korean law, officials said. The government plans to provide financial support for those from Europe who undergo self-isolation.

However, the government said it has not yet considered a full-fledged diagnostic test for visitors from North America, judging that the risk of the COVID-19 spreading in North America has not reached the European level.

"Although confirmed cases are increasing in North America and some are confirmed during the screening process, arrivals from North America are not as dangerous as those from Europe," said Yoon Tae-ho, chief of the central headquarters to cope with the pandemic disaster.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun called for suspending the operation of religious, indoor sports and entertainment facilities for 15 days as the government struggles cluster infections, especially in preparation for the twice-postponed opening of the new school year on April 6.

Calling the next 15 days a "critical" time in deciding whether the government could succeed in fighting the spread of COVID-19, Jung said the government strongly urges religious and sports facilities that are susceptible to cluster infections to suspend operations for 15 days.

"For facilities that do not follow the orders, the government will take every legal action, including entity closures and filing compensation suits," Chung said.

As of midnight Saturday, the nation has tested 331,780 suspected patients, while adding the 8,897 confirmed patients. Among the total number of people tested, 308,343 people showed a negative response to the test, and 14,540 people are waiting for the test results.

corea022@docdocdoc.co.kr

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