Korea's new coronavirus cases rose to 7,428 on Monday, but the pace of additional infections slowed, as health authorities completed extensive testing on about 210,000 members of a religious sect at the center of rapid spread.
The health officials are currently going all out to stem smaller clusters of infections, including neighborhood hospitals and nursing homes for the elderly.
The nation reported 344 new cases as of 4 p.m. Monday, way below the daily increase of about 500 last week and the lowest number since Feb. 26, let alone some 700 to 800 early last week, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said that if the government, medical community, and the public press on hard, the nation may soon be able to make an “inflection point” in their fight against the new coronavirus. Chung said COVID-19 infection's steep rise has slowed down as the tests on the Shincheonji Church of Jesus members in Daegu are all but finished.
"The government has also prepared a number of beds and healthcare centers to accommodate patients, providing a platform for solving the problem," Prime Minister Chung said.
About 60 percent of confirmed cases are related to the new Christian sect in Daegu, which, along with surrounding North Gyeongsang Province, account for about 90 percent of people afflicted with the virus. Noting that 252 church members have yet to respond to the government’s calls for receiving tests, Vice Minister of Health and Welfare Kim Kang-lip said the ministry would report them to the prosecution if they continue to refuse to take the test.
Over the weekend, Italy briefly took the place of Korea as the No. 2 nation in the number of confirmed cases outside China, with a total of 7,375 COVID-19 patients and death tolls of 366. The number increased by 1,492 from 5,883 on Saturday. AFP reported that Italy now has more confirmed patients and deaths than South Korea has.
The number of COVID-19 patients in Europe also exceeded 10,000, recording the largest number of daily increase of all continents. France confirmed 177 patients to a total of 1,126 in total, and Germany reported 902 new cases also to exceed 1,000 in total.
The Moon Jae-in administration, meanwhile, decided to suspend visa exemption for Japanese travelers in response to Japan's restriction on Korean visitors, starting from midnight Sunday. It even suspended the existing visa waivers on Japan, discontinuing a short-term stay-free visa system applied to Japanese within 90 days of stay.
The United States has reportedly reaffirmed it is not adding restricting measures on Korea by, for example, expanding regions of its travel ban beyond Daegu.
Some U.S. officials highly evaluated Korea's preemptive measure as well as its capability and transparency and wanted to cooperate with Korea to battle COVID-19. For example, Korea explained the installation of a drive-through screening clinic where 60 people can be screened per day.
So far, 54 people, mostly elderly patients with underlying illnesses, have died in Korea from the respiratory virus, while 166 left the hospital fully recovered.
The number of people tested for COVID-19 totaled 188,518 people, aside from the confirmed cases. Among the total, 162,008 showed negative with the results of the other 19,376 under analysis.
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