Korea recorded 144 new cases of the novel coronavirus and two death raising the total to 945 on Tuesday, as the government moved to virtually blockade two local epicenters - the southwestern city of Daegu and surrounding North Gyeongsang Province.
The latest victim is also related to Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo, near Daegu. Seven out of the 10 deaths here are linked to the hospital, where more than 110 people, including nine medical workers, testing positive for the virus.
With the numbers continuing to rise, Korea has now become the nation to have the second-largest number of novel coronavirus patients.
The rising number of patients has led to an increasing number of foreign countries enacting bans on Koreans or issuing travel restrictions to Seoul. As of Monday, seven countries – Israel, Bahrain, Jordan, Kiribati, Samoa and American Samoa, Hong Kong – have barred South Koreans from entering the country, while 10 countries –the U.K., Singapore, Turkmenistan, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Uganda, Oman, Macau, Qatar, and the Federated States of Micronesia – have decided to put travelers from South Korea into temporary quarantine or to monitor their health condition closely.
As the number of countries putting a restriction on Korean travelers continues to rise, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it plans to hold an emergency meeting with foreign embassy officials here and urge them to refrain from excessive entry restrictions on Koreans.
"We are going to invite officials from foreign embassies to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday, in connection with the recent restrictions on the entry of Koreans and explain to them the Korean government efforts in quarantining and controlling the virus," a ministry official said. "We will emphasize our government's efforts on quarantine, and urge other nations to refrain from excessive restrictions on Koreans."
To cope with the rising number of patients, President Moon Jae-in said the government would draw up an emergency supplementary budget to support fights against the novel coronavirus and minimize its economic impact.
"If necessary, the government will ask for the cooperation of the National Assembly to allocate additional spending," President Moon said at a cabinet meeting.
The budget plan, which will likely be part of the COVID-19 comprehensive package to be announced on Friday, is likely to include 15 trillion won ($12.3 billion) in financial support. The amount, however, does not include 2.8 trillion won in the reserve budget that the government announced it would spend to combat the COVID-19 earlier this month.
The decision is based on the judgment that COVID-19 could be more severe than SARS, which required an emergency supplementary budget of 7 trillion won, and the 11 trillion won disbursed at the time of MERS outbreak.
As opposition parties have shown their intention to cooperate, the emergency budget will likely pass the National Assembly in March.
Despite the COVID-19 spreading on a global scale, the World Health Organization said it is too early to declare the virus a global pandemic.
"What we don't understand yet in Covid-19 are the absolute transmission dynamics," said Mike Ryan, the WHO’s executive director of health emergencies program, during a briefing for reporters on Monday. "So we're in a phase of preparedness for a potential pandemic. Let's focus on what we can do and what we need to do, which is to prepare."
When the WHO means to prepare, it means to prepare to detect cases, prepare to treat cases, prepare to follow contacts, prepare to put in place adequate containment measures, Ryan added.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also said, "Although WHO has declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, the outbreak has not met the criteria needed to be described as a pandemic when it comes to its geographical spread and impact."
The WHO's decision about whether to use the word pandemic to describe an epidemic is based on an ongoing assessment of the geographical spread of the virus, the severity of the disease it causes, and the impact it has on the whole society, Ghebreyesus added.
Ghebreyesus quickly added, however, the COVID-19 has the potential of becoming a pandemic.
The number of reported cases for COVID-19 worldwide has reached 80,249, with 2,706 fatalities.
In Korea, as of 5 p.m. Tuesday, the number of people checked for the virus and under quarantine reached 13,880. The nation has screened 39,327 people for COVID-19 since Jan. 3, with 25,447 testing negative and 22 discharged from hospital fully recovered. Aside from the 10 dead patients, 913 are receiving treatments in isolation.
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