Completely recovered patients from the new coronavirus surpassed those under treatment in number for the first time in Korea on Saturday, public health authorities said.
The nation detected 146 new COVID cases as of midnight Friday, bringing the total to 9,478. The newly confirmed patients rebounded above 100, but hospitals cured 283 more patients and discharged them, raising the accumulated total of recovered cases to 4,811, exceeding 4,523 patients still receiving treatment.
It was the first time that the number of recovered patients has topped that of people who are receiving treatment since Korea found the first new coronavirus case on Jan. 20.
The rate of full recovery also rose above 50 percent.
“Korea’s attaining of the recovery rate higher than 50 percent is an accomplishment, if small, which our society can self-celebrate,” said Yoon Tae-ho, chief coordinator of the central headquarters to cope with COVID-19. “The attainment is thanks to medical workers' self-sacrificing struggle and the rest of the citizens who actively took part in social-distancing.”
Noting that cluster infections still occur in the southeastern area and the Seoul metro region, Yoon said the situation is “still far from reassuring.”
Private experts also evaluated the increase of cured patients as a “positive sign,” but the nation can ill afford to loosen its alert, citing the rising mortality rate.
Five more patients died of coronavirus on Friday, pushing up the fatality rate to 1.52 percent. The mortality sharply rises to higher than 15 percent among those aged 80 or more, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The decline in the number of patients under self-isolation is positive as it indicates that COVID-19 has entered into a level to be controlled by the nation’s healthcare system,” said Professor Bang Ji-hwan, head of the Central Infectious Disease Hospital. “We should not relieve tension, however. As a result of massive outbreaks of patients in the southeastern area of Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, the lethality might continue to rise until early next month.”
The two biggest problems now are how to stem imported cases and deal with the forthcoming opening of a new school year scheduled for April 6, experts said.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said in this regard that the government will conclude early next week after listening to opinions from various sectors of society and by putting students’ safety ahead of all.
“The government is collecting views of parents and local communities on the opening of the schools,” Chung said. “During the weekend, we will discuss whether to open kindergartens and elementary, middle, and high schools on April 6 or delay the date once again.”
Korean universities have been replacing their lectures with online ones. However, more than 90 percent of universities plan to begin offline on April 6 or 13.
Meanwhile, Koreans staying in Peru, who were unable to get out of the country due to the Peruvian government's border closure, returned home on Saturday aboard a chartered flight. Most of the 198 returnees are long-term travelers and volunteers sent by the Korea International Cooperation Agency.
Many Korean students studying abroad are also returning to the homeland due to the accelerating spread of COVID-19 all over the world.
As the COVID-19 spread rapidly in the United States, Korean international students in the U.S. are extremely concerned about the possibility of COVID-19 infection at airports and during flights.
According to a post on a website where parents of Korean international students in the U.S. gather, many people were wearing goggles and protective clothes on their flight back to Korea. Another user posted on the website saying that people were wearing masks the whole time on board. Many of them refused in-flight meals and did not go to the restroom. The user is also planning to do the same.
Although the government has decided to conduct a fever check on all passengers on their way to Korea, experts pointed out that asymptomatic patients are difficult to find in that way.
Due to the capability of COVID-19 virus transmitting from the beginning of infection, a hole will inevitably be created in the preventive measure if the infected person is distinguished only by the appeared symptoms, they pointed out.
"Korea needs to isolate all travelers entering the nation because it is pointless to only place the arrivals from the U.S. and Europe under quarantine," Professor Aum Joong-sik of Infectious Disease Division at Gachon University Gil Hospital said.
Yoon, the chief coordinator, also said, “We are having in-depth discussions on how to tighten quarantine measure on people coming to Korea from countries other than the U.S. and Europe.” Yoon added that the headquarters would conclude after discussing effective preventive measures.
As of midnight Friday, Korea has tested 387,925 people with a total of 361,883 people having shown a negative response to the diagnostic test, and 16,564 suspected patients are either waiting for their test result or being tested.
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