After recording significant rises in newly confirmed coronavirus cases over the past three days, Korea marked a relatively lowered increase of 309 patients in the first 16 hours of Friday, to a total of 6,593.
The decline in confirmed cases is due mainly to the near completion of tests on the 210,000 members of the Shincheonji Church, a new Christian sect that emerged as the single biggest epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in Korea. Some 2,500 church members have yet to take the test.
Officials in Daegu, where a large chapter of the controversial church is located, plan to finish the test in a few days. The nation’s fourth-largest city with a population of 2.5 million can test about 3,000 people. As of Thursday midnight, 3,013 confirmed patients were the church members, accounting for 70 percent of patients in the southeastern metropolis.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updates COVID-19 statistics twice a day, one at midnight and the other at 4 p.m.
The situation outside of Daegu is still uncertain because Seoul and surrounding Gyeonggi Province have confirmed more than 100 patients, respectively. A series of small-group infections at apartments, extracurricular schools, and churches also make the situation worrisome.
"Daegu and its chapter of the secretive Christian sect have absorbed too much of the workforce dealing with the coronavirus outbreak," said Professor Km Woo-joo of Korea University Hospital’s Infectious Disease Department. "We might have missed other patients, and this implies there are hidden patients among the public."
Korea is receiving positive responses from overseas that the nation is managing the new coronavirus infection well without restricting travels, unlike China's decision to block its epicenter of Wuhan completely, and Japan that turned a cruise ship into the culture dish of coronavirus.
Many experts credit Korea's having the second-largest number of COVID-19 cases following China to the nation’s well-developed screening system, including the swift release of information on patients' travel routes and abundant diagnosis kits.
Some foreign media outlets paid attention to Korea's significantly lower fatality rate of 0.66 percent, nearly one-fifth of the global average of 3.6 percent.
Nevertheless, 102 nations have banned or restricted entries from Korea as of 10 a.m. Friday, according to the Foreign Ministry.
The Korean government showed a particularly disturbing reaction to the Japanese government’s move, threatening to respond in kind. The Japanese government is believed to have either hidden exact figures, less than eager to conduct tests on suspected patients for fear of having to put off or cancel the Tokyo Olympics scheduled for July.
Cheong Wa Dae expressed "strong regret" over Japan's entry restrictions on people arriving from Korea amid the spread of the new coronavirus, saying it may take measures under the principle of reciprocity.
In an unexpected move, meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has sent a personal letter to President Moon Jae-in to express his support for South Korea to overcome the outbreak of the new coronavirus. Diplomatic observers are paying keen attention to whether Kim’s move is a signal to amend the chilly inter-Korean ties for reason of cooperating in dealing with the epidemic.
As of 4 p.m. Thursday, the number of people tested for COVID-19 totaled 158,456 people, aside from the 6,593 confirmed cases. Among the total, 136,624 showed negative, with the results of the other 21,832 are being analyzed.
So far, 43 patients, mostly elders with underlying illnesses, have died from the COVID-19, and 108 left the hospital fully recovered, the KCDC
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