Korea’s new Covid-19 cases dipped below 20 on Sunday for the first time this month, but cluster infections in various regions remained the cause for concern.
The nation reported 17 new virus cases, 11 local infections and six imported ones, raising the total caseload to 12,438 as of midnight Sunday, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The majority of the locally transmitted cases came from the densely populated greater Seoul areas, where around half of the country's 50-million population lives. The region has been the hotbed for most of the newly added virus cases this month, with cluster outbreaks at churches and door-to-door business firms.
The public health authorities also saw infections outside of the Seoul metro region. Two cases were reported in South Chungcheong Province and one each in Daegu and North Jeolla Province. Such spread in viruses has raised concerns of further community spread outside Seoul.
No fatalities were reported, holding the death toll at 280. The number of people released from quarantine after full recovery totaled 10,881, up 13 from the previous day. The nation has tested about 1.18 million suspected patients since Jan. 3.
To continue its containment efforts, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the government would designate door-to-door sales firms, logistics centers, large private tutoring institutions and buffet restaurants as "high-risk facilities."
Businesses designated as high-risk facilities will have to carry out stricter virus prevention measures starting Tuesday.
During the daily task force meeting, Chung also expressed worries about a recent increase in imported cases.
"Korea should consider temporarily toughening standards for visa issuance and other entry restrictions on countries where the coronavirus cases are surging now," Chung said.
The government restricted issuing visas to people from Pakistan and Bangladesh and temporarily suspend permits for non-scheduled flights between Korea and the two countries, starting from Tuesday.
Also, authorities will ban foreigners entering the country under a non-professional employment (E-9) visas if they do not have proper facilities for the mandatory two-week self-quarantine.
Regarding treatment efforts, the Central Clinical Commission, a government-organized task force, officially advised the use of remdesivir, a Covid-19 treatment candidate developed by Gilead Sciences, and advised caution in using Kaletra, AbbVie's human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) treatment, as an additional treatment on Sunday.
However, the commission decided not to recommend the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, both malaria treatments.
In detail, the task force recommends remdesivir administration to severely ill patients who require oxygen therapy for five days. However, hospitals can extend the treatment period up to 10 days, depending on the situation. As for Kaletra, hospitals should carefully decide whether or not to administer the drug in cases where the use of other drugs is limited.
The commission also recommended lowering the hospitalization period for Covid-19 patients with minor symptoms to make more beds available for severe cases.
"Those with lighter symptoms can be released from hospitals early for at-home treatment to allow serious cases to be hospitalized," the task force said.
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