Korea reported 86 new coronavirus cases on Friday, pushing up the total to 10,062 and breaking the 10,000 mark 74 days after the nation found its first infection on Jan. 20.
The country’s death toll five by six to 175, with nearly 60 percent of victims being people aged 80 or older and/or having pre-existing conditions.
Most notable among them recently was an international medicine physician, who died of COVID-19 at 9:52 a.m. Friday. The first death of the doctor highlighted the difficulties facing healthcare providers in the frontline of the fight against the pandemic.
In Daegu alone, 121 healthcare professionals had contracted the new coronavirus as of March 24. Fourteen of them were physicians, 56 were nurses, and the other 51 were nursing assistants, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). The statistics on healthcare providers infected with the virus have yet to be released.
A series of COVID-19 infections occurred at medical institutions, including mental wards in Daegu and a midsize general hospital in Uijeongbu, north of Seoul.
Most of the medical institutions offer selective screenings to treat patients with symptoms such as fever or cough. Still, they are not able to detect the infected 100 percent, experts said. The selective screening is a medical system that finds suspected patients to prevent infected people from entering the hospital and spread to other patients.
Another problem is the diverse symptoms of COVID-19.
"Some COVID-19 patients here complained of only stomachache and diarrhea symptoms without showing respiratory symptoms," Professor Jung Ki-seok of the Hallym University College of Medicine said Friday. “These patients with digestive symptoms should also undergo selective screening.”
On the other hand, officials began to show some confidence in curbing imported cases.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, the COVID-19 czar, said the government hopes it will be able to control to a considerable extent the influxes of coronavirus cases if the number of new arrivals declines a little compared from now, reducing the number of people under self-quarantine.
"The number of visitors entering the nation from abroad will remain similar, and confirmed cases found in self-quarantine will likely increase for the time being,” Prime Minister Chung said. “If we manage to keep them from contracting local communities, however, infections are unlikely to spread further,”
He acknowledged that some newly arrived people violated the self-isolation guidance visiting stores and public restrooms. “However, these problems have been addressed considerably since Wednesday,” Chung said.
The number of imported cases has been on a steady rise. A total of 601 confirmed patients have entered Korea with 40 to 60 people having been detected a day over the past week or so.
In the early days of COVID-19 spreading, most of the arrivals were from China and Asia. However, people are coming from various regions now, including Europe, America, Africa, and the Middle East.
To deal with lingering cluster infections surrounding some churches, the Metropolitan Government announced Friday that it would file a complaint against the attendants at Sunday service in Sarangjeil Church in Seongbuk District for violating the order to ban close gatherings.
As of midnight Thursday, 193 more patients were discharged from the hospitals, raising the number of recovered cases to 6,021. A total of 3,867 patients are receiving treatment in medical institutes.
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