Korea reported 47 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, marking the first time the number of additional daily infections dropped below 50 since late February,
The accumulative total of infections rose to 10,284, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The death toll rose by three to a total of 186. Hospitals have discharged 135 more patients who recovered from the new coronavirus as of midnight Sunday.
Coincidentally or not, the near halving of new cases came a few days after the health authorities said last week their next target is to lower the new cases to below 50 a day.
However, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun reemphasized the need for Korea not to loosen its tension. "I don’t like thinking about it. However, if the COVID-19 virus spreads throughout the Seoul metro region in large scales, the crisis now gripping the United States and Europe may likely be our problem, too,” Chung said while presiding over the daily interagency meeting to cope with the coronavirus.
The government has declared the extension of intense social distancing for another two weeks from Monday.
Although the southeastern hot spots of Daegu and surrounding North Gyeongsang Province have overcome their last massive outbreaks, the local administrations may not be able to control the virus in the case of another large-scale infection, Chung said.
"Many citizens visited parks over the weekend to enjoy the spring season as they have been under stress," the prime minister pointed out. "These parks were crowded enough to raise concerns about outdoor infections."
Chung’s warning came as the nation struggles with the persistent cluster infections in Seoul, the western port city of Incheon and surrounding Gyeonggi Province.
The number of confirmed patients in the Seoul metro region has exceeded 1,200. Especially worrisome for public health officials were the continuous outbreak of confirmed cases at medical facilities, such as Uijeongbu St. Mary's Hospital, Asan Medical Center, and Incheon Medical Center.
About 30 to 40 new COVID-19 patients have been confirmed daily in the capital city and its vicinity, and a considerable number of them, medical facilities.
In hospitals, patients and guardians who use the inpatient rooms may be infected together, and a clustered infection can occur if the infected people carry the virus while visiting various medical facilities.
"It took some time for New York City to report 10,000 confirmed cases in total, but the number increased 10 times very quickly," Director Jung Ki-suck of Hallym University Sacred Heart Hospital said. "Likewise, the number of confirmed cases in the Seoul metro area can increase explosively at any time."
Another problem is that the metro area can send aids, such as medical teams, protective clothes, and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, to other regions. Still, the capital region cannot expect similar help from the rest of the country, as about half of all medical facilities are concentrated in the capital areas, Professor Chun Byung-chul of Korea University Department of Preventive Medicine pointed out.
In cooperation with the government’s continuous social-distancing drive, the Military Manpower Administration (MMA) said Monday that it would extend the nationwide draft physical examination once again to April 17. The MMA temporarily stopped the examination from Feb. 24. The intended period was two weeks, but the administration has postponed the examination twice more.
Reflecting the virtual travel ban on the Chinese people, not a single Chinese national entered Korea on Saturday, immigration officials said. It was the first time Korea received no Chinese visitors since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in August 1992.
An official of the Ministry of Justice said that Korea’s strengthened entry restrictions might have had the effect of blocking entries, although the Seoul government, unlike Beijing, has not prohibited Chinese people from entering Korea.
So far, Korea has tested 466,804 COVID-19 tests and completed 447,509 tests. Among the tested, 437,225 people showed a negative response, and 19,295 suspected patients are being tested.
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