Korea reported 89 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Thursday, pushing up the cumulative number to 9,976.
The 89 additional cases detected as of midnight Wednesday, marked the 21st day in a row that new infections have remained around 100, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Over the past few days, newly confirmed cases in the Seoul metro region – the capital city, the western port city of Incheon and surrounding Gyeonggi Province -- has exceeded the southeastern area of Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, due mainly to cluster infections at churches and new arrivals from abroad, according to the KCDC.
Four more people died of COVID-19, increasing the number of victims to 169. More than half of the deaths occurred among people aged 80 or more and those with preexisting conditions. However, a man in his 40s and without underlying disease died on Thursday, raising the alarm among public health officials.
As the social restriction prolongs, some Koreans are showing signs of fatigue, government officials noted. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said in this regard that the two-week social distancing measure, which is scheduled to end on Sunday, will need to be extended because any relaxation of it is likely to lead to another widespread COVID-19 infection throughout the nation.
Prime Minister Chung said the government understands that social distancing cannot continue indefinitely given the public fatigue coming from following the measure.
“However, loosening the measure at the moment can cause the virus to spread again as the nation continues to report clustered infections and foreign inflows of COVID-19,” Chung said.
In a similar vein, the Ministry of Justice barred the entrance of eight foreigners, who refused to follow the quarantine measure of isolating themselves for two weeks, sending them back to their countries.
The government has been implementing self-quarantine measures on all foreigners who entered Korea from Wednesday to prevent the reverse inflows of COVID-19 virus from abroad.
The ministry announced that the screening center at the airport had reported the foreigners who refused to abide by preventive measures even though they had been informed of being subject to quarantine. Ministry officials said they would cooperate with public health officials to impose entry bans and deportation on foreigners who refuse or violate self-quarantine.
Another cause of concern regarding new arrivals is the possible spread of the virus within families, as Korean returnees are obliged to isolate themselves within their homes for two weeks, health officials said. The public fears that if the isolated returnees pass the virus to their families, it can eventually lead to widespread infection in communities, they added.
According to the KCDC, COVID-19 infections among family members have increased as the number of self-quarantined people has been growing. The analysis of the 2,370 contacts of the first 30 confirmed patients showed that the secondary infections are much more ikely to occur through familial contacts than general infections.
Among the contacts, the probability of infection inside the family was 7.56 percent, and that of outside the family was 0.18 percent.
"If we do not follow the guidelines for self-quarantine, the closest family member could be the next victims of the disease," KCDC Director Jung Eun-kyeong said.
As of midnight Tuesday, 261 more patients recovered and left the hospitals. The total number of recovered patients increased from 5,567 to 5,828. Also, according to the health authorities, 3,979 patients are under treatment.
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