Korea’s new Covid-19 cases fell below 20 for the first time in 38 days as both local and foreign infections declined.
The nation recorded 18 new cases -- seven local infections and 11 foreign ones -- raising the cumulative caseload to 14,269 as of midnight Wednesday, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The total number of people released from quarantine after full recoveries has reached 13,132, up 63 from the previous day. The death toll remained unchanged at 300. The country, with a population of 50 million, has carried out 1,556,215 tests since Jan. 3.
Health officials had a breather, as slowing foreign inflows and regional outbreaks pushed down the total to the lowest figure in nearly six weeks.
However, the officials remained on alert against a possible resurge, as cluster infections still break out in the Seoul metro region, and they cannot rule out the possibility of a community spread in Busan originating from Russian sailors there.
All local cases came from the greater Seoul area, with the capital reporting three cases and Gyeonggi Province confirming four cases.
In Seoul, health officials are continuously confirming new cases tied to an investment firm in Jongno-gu. As of Wednesday noon, the cumulative confirmed number related to it increased to 12 people.
While imported cases recorded double-digit figures for the 35th consecutive day, the nation managed to reduce cases to 11. Of them, four cases were from the Philippines, three from Saudi Arabia, two from the U.S., and one from Iraq and Uzbekistan. Eight were detected at port and airport checkpoints.
Health officials expect imported cases to rise back on Friday as the government brings back an additional 72 workers from Iraq.
Cases tied to workers returning from Iraq were among the primary source of imported infections, as seen by the daily tally surpassing 100 last Friday.
“The chartered plane carrying 72 construction workers from Iraq is expected to land at Incheon Airport around 9:30 a.m. Friday,” Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-Hoo said. “There is a good chance that there will be a significant number of confirmed patients, similar to last week.”
The government will do its best for the safety and health of Korea workers throughout the process of diagnosis and treatment upon returning home, he added.
During a daily task force meeting, Minister Park urged local and provincial governments to consider proactive diagnostic tests for high-risk facilities, such as nursing homes.
“Although all life is valuable, statistics show that we have to be more careful and protective in treating older Covid-19 patients,” Park said. “While the fatality rate from Covid-19 is only 0.7 percent for patients in their 30s, the rate drastically increases to 9.5 and 25 percent for patients in their 70s and 80s.”
Proactive diagnostic tests to detect and protect asymptomatic infected people are needed to prevent further spread, he noted.