Korea reported 104 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, and 57 of them were imported infections, similar to the previous day, public health officials said.
According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the accumulated total rose to 9,241, and the number of wholly cured patients increased to 4,144 as an additional 414 fully recovered ones left hospitals as of midnight Wednesday. The recovery rate climbed to 44.8 percent.
The number of people died of the new coronavirus inched up to 131, pushing up the mortality rate to 1.41 percent.
A new headache for the local health authorities was a rapid increase of confirmed cases among new arrivals, they said. The total number of imported infections rose to 284, about 3 percent of the total 9,241. Out of the 284, 234 were confirmed over the past 11 days. The imported infections, which stood at two to seven a week for seven weeks since Jan. 20, surged to 95 last week.
Experts said the number would continue to rise as long as new cases increase in Europe and America and Korea keeps its door open, unlike many other countries that closed their borders.
“In the current situation when the new coronavirus remains a pandemic that’s going around the world, Korea can’t help but see imported cases surge,” said Professor Um Joong-shik of the Infectious Disease Department at Gachon University Medical Center. “Only when the COVID-19 crisis rages itself out in most of the world, especially Europe and the United States, will the influxes from overseas calm down.”
Ki Mo-ran, a professor at the National Cancer Center, also said that the government should take self-isolation measures for people coming from all over the world as the pandemic spreads across the globe.
Some Korean nationals and foreigners put under the two-week self-quarantine are also raising the eyebrows of locals by violating the health authorities’ instructions, officials said.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said in this regard that the government should file charges against Koreans who violate self-quarantine rules without justifiable reasons and deport foreigners who do the same, based on a “zero-tolerance” policy.
Chung emphasized that self-quarantine measure on arrivals from Europe and the United States is legal enforcement.
As the number of COVID-19 patients rose among the Korean returnees and foreigners, the government decided to mandate visitors from the U.S. to isolate themselves starting from Friday.
Stressing that foreign visitors, like their Korean counterparts, must comply with self-isolation thoroughly and adequately to stem the spread, Chung said those under self-quarantine should not go to a mart or restaurant.
The government should provide proper and strict self-quarantine guidelines to inbound visitors and prevent them from using public transportation when moving to places for isolation, he added.
Meanwhile, after U.S. President Donald Trump officially asked President Moon Jae-in for the COVID-19 equipment, the U.S. regulator is likely to approve Korean diagnostic kits soon. Some pharmaceuticals have already signed supply contracts with some U.S. state governments. Meeting with the U.S. media, however, Trump made no mention about his request for the South Korean support.
President Moon thanked Korean makers for their rapid development of the diagnostic kits, saying, “President Trump also urgently requested for the diagnostic equipment and other preventive supplies.”
Noting that many other governments have requested the diagnostic kits, Moon said the Korean government would actively support Korean companies’ export of virus-related equipment.
However, the four Korean makers of diagnostic kits said that even though they were operating at full capacity, meeting all overseas demands is almost impossible.
In Korea, 4,966 patients are receiving treatment. So far, the nation tested 364,942 patients since it found the first case on Jan. 20.
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