Korea reported 64 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, marking the smallest gains since late February. Public-health authorities, however, didn’t read too much into the daily difference of a few dozens, vowing to strengthen quarantine on people entering the nation from abroad.
The total number of confirmed cases inched up to 8,961 as of midnight Sunday, and hospitals have discharged 3,166 patients. Seven more people died, pushing up the total number to 111.
Medical experts said Korea should prevent the “third wave” of COVID-19 now that two months have passed since the first outbreak.
The first COVID-19 outbreak started with the patient who entered Korea from Wuhan, China, on Jan. 20. The second wave began in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, with an exponential increase of COVID-19 patients surrounding the Shincheonji Church. Experts warned that three factors -- foreign inflows, community infections and viral mutations -- could spark the third COVID-19 wave.
“The third wave could break out at any moment when the three risk factors interlock,” wrote Professor Yoo Jin-hong of the Infectious Diseases Department at Bucheon St. Mary's Hospital on the recent issue of the Journal of Korean Medical Science.
About 10,000 people -- some 7,200 Koreans and 2,500 foreigners -- entered Korea from abroad on Sunday, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Among the arrivals from Europe, those with symptoms were tested in separate quarantine facilities, while those without symptoms were sent to temporary accommodations for tests in facilities near Seoul. Those who tested were sent to hospitals or mild symptom treatment facilities, depending on their health conditions.
Those with negative test results who have arrived here for a long-term stay were required to self-isolate at home for two weeks. People who have no homes here were sent to government-arranged facilities. Foreigners who arrived here from Europe for a short-term stay, were not put into quarantine. However, health authorities will check their health conditions daily by phone.
A total of 324 visitors from Europe were transferred to the Institute of Justice in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province, on Monday. The admitted foreigners did not show COVID-19 symptoms when checked during the entry procedure. They will stay for 24 hours at the institute until the test results come out.
The government said it is considering strengthening quarantine measures for people from other regions than Europe, too. “We will announce steps to enhance quarantine on people from other regions,” said Yoon Tae-ho, chief coordinator at the central headquarters to cope with COVID-19.
The number of confirmed cases in the United States has passed 31,000, the third-largest following China (81,432) and Italy (59,138).
Meanwhile, the government said that it would take legal actions against several Protestant churches to violate the government's guidelines to prevent cluster infections.
As part of the government's campaign for stricter social distancing, the public health authorities advised churches to follow quarantine measures, including keeping the distance between followers at least two meters while attending services, and having their temperature checked.
However, some churches, including Sarang Jeil Church in northern Seoul, pressed ahead with weekend religious services, without abiding by some of the guidelines.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the government's stern measures, including banning gatherings, should be imposed on churches that have ignored the virus guidelines.
"The churches' act seriously hurt the safety of not only individuals attending the service but also communities," Chung said. "Now is an emergency that amounts to a quasi-wartime situation. People should not regard the government's administrative orders as a bluff," he stressed.
Small-scale cluster infections have been reported at Protestant churches in recent weeks after the bulk of cases tied to the Shincheonji religious sect subsided. Followers at Sarang Jeil Church, led by now-jailed conservative pastor Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon, closely sat together when they attended the services.
Korea has tested 338,036 suspected patients and confirmed 8,961 patients so far. As of midnight Sunday, 324,408 people have shown a negative response to the COVID-19 test among the total number of people tested, and 13,628 people are still being tested.
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