The nation saw its coronavirus outbreak reach another daily record of 505 new cases on Thursday, raising the total to 1,766, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.
Of the 505 new cases, 450 are in Daegu and surrounding North Gyeongsang Province. Other provinces and major cities have also reported additional infections with an additional seven new cases occurring in Seoul and 11 in nearby Gyeonggi Province.
To combat the COVID-19 more efficiently, the National Assembly passed a set of bills enhancing government responses to infectious disease.
Under the new laws and regulations, any suspected patients who refuse to take a test ordered by the health authorities can face up to a 3 million won ($2,470) fine, and those who refuse quarantine or hospitalization order could face up to one year in prison, or 10 million won in fine.
The amendment also allows the health minister to ban the export of face masks and hand sanitizers at a time of sharp price hikes or supply shortages here. It calls for the government to provide masks to more vulnerable class, including children and older adults at state welfare facilities.
The revision also permits the increase of the number of epidemiological investigators at the health ministry from 30 to 100, while making it mandatory for pharmacies and healthcare institutions to check the patient's overseas travel information system when prescribing medicines.
The health minister can also ask the justice minister to ban the entry of foreign nationals who visited epicenters of an infectious disease.
The strengthened set of regulations will establish a new infection monitoring system for patients, guardians, or workers at medical institutions to improve the national response system.
"The passage of three bills is likely to enhance the nation's capabilities to respond to infectious diseases and help relieve public anxiety over the novel coronavirus," the parliament said in a statement.
The COVID-19 outbreak has brought about significant change in the country.
South Korea's Catholic Church has decided to suspend all public masses across the country for the first time in its 236-year history, to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.
All 16 dioceses of the Catholic Church, including Daegu, which suspended its public mass a week ago, have decided to suspend public mass from Thursday. While the dates differ, all churches will suspend mass until the first week of March.
Besides, Korea-U.S. combined forces have decided to postpone their springtime joint military exercise. The combined forces had planned to stage their computer-simulated combined command post-training in March but decided to put it off until further notice.
"In light of the Korean government's declaration of the highest alert level "severe" on COVID-19, the ROK-U.S. Alliance made the decision to postpone the combined command post-training for the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command until further notice," the United States Forces Korea said in a statement.
The containment efforts for COVID-19 and the safety of the ROK and U.S. service members were prioritized in making this decision, it added.
The decision to postpone training was initially raised by General Park Hanki, chairman of the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Robert Abrams, Combined Forces Command and United States Forces Korea Commander, agreed to postpone the training based on the severity of the present COVID-19 situation within South Korea.
As of 5 p.m., Thursday, the number of people checked for the virus and under quarantine reached 25,568. The nation has screened 64,886 people for COVID-19 since Jan. 3, with 39,318 testing negative and 26 discharged from hospital fully recovered. Aside from the 13 dead patients, 1,727 are receiving treatments in isolation.
With the nation confirming new patients by the hundreds every day since last Saturday, the international community has also increased measures against Korea to prevent possible inflows of the virus. The number of countries banning the entry of travelers coming from Korea or issuing quarantine measures increased from 17 on Tuesday to 43 countries Thursday.
The 43 nations are Israel, Bahrain, Jordan, Kiribati, Samoa and American Samoa, Hong Kong, the U.K., Singapore, Turkmenistan, Thailand, Kazakhstan, Uganda, Oman, Macau, Qatar, the Federated States of Micronesia, Japan, Vietnam, Colombia, Kuwait, Iraq, Mozambique, Taiwan, Mauritius, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Tuvalu, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Mongolia, China, India, Maldives, Morocco, El Salvador, Panama, Paraguay, Belarus, the Philippines, Seychelles, Tunisia, and French Polynesia.
The steep increase in such a number came, although the Ministry of Foreign Affairs held an emergency meeting with foreign embassy officials here and urged them to refrain from implementing excessive entry restrictions on Koreans, on Tuesday.
The U.S. was not among them, however, as President Donald Trump said on Wednesday (EST) that it's not the right time to put additional travel restrictions on South Korea over the coronavirus. "At a right time, we may do it," President Trump said.
Despite Trump's remarks, however, the U.S. State Department raised its travel advisory for South Korea to the second-highest level, urging its citizens to reconsider travel over concerns about the coronavirus.
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