Korea's new virus cases fell below 50 on Thursday, but health officials maintained alertness amid the high risk of community spread and little signs of a slowdown in both local and imported infections.
According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation reported 45 new Covid-19 cases – 22 local infections and 23 foreign arrivals -- raising the cumulative total to 13,338 as of midnight Thursday. An additional 46 people were recovered from the virus, increasing the number of cured patients to 12,065, with 985 getting treatment.
One more person died, increasing the death toll to 288. The nation has tested 1,384,890 suspected patients since Jan. 3.
Health officials confirmed 10 additional cases from the densely populated greater Seoul areas, where around half of the country's 50-million population lives, while Daejeon, a metropolis 160 km south of Seoul, added seven cases.
As the virus continues its spread in Seoul, the capital city recorded the second-largest cumulative caseload of 1,401 on Friday, surpassing North Gyeongsang Province’s 1,393. Daegu, the initial hotbed of the country's virus outbreak, has the most recorded cases in the nation with 6,926.
Health authorities confirmed three more cases in Gwangju and two in South Jeolla Province.
Korea eased social distancing in May, but cluster infections from clubs, churches, and door-to-door sales businesses in the greater Seoul area have forced health authorities to take a step back and reinforce distancing rules in the region.
The eased social-distancing scheme hinges on the condition that the daily new infections stay at 50 or below, although small ups and downs may be tolerated. Accordingly, Korea will seriously need to review enhancing distancing rules nationwide should the daily figures further escalate.
On Thursday, the health authorities also identified 23 more imported infections, which posted double-digit numbers for more than two weeks. Of the newly added imported cases, four of them were detected at checkpoints at airports and ports. The accumulated number of imported cases reached 1,791, accounting for roughly 13 percent of all COVID-19 infections here.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, the Moon Jae-in administration's coronavirus czar, stressed that the nation needs to maintain its alert on imported cases.
“Since June, the number of foreign inflows has increased significantly and the national anxiety is high as the number of confirmed patients over the past three weeks has exceeded 100, Chung said. “We need to reexamine overseas immigration management, such as quarantine and migration.”
The government will strengthen quarantine by, for instance, calling for mandatory submission of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) negative confirmations, on entrants from countries with increased risk of the virus, Chung said,
The prime minister also urged Koreans to stick to quarantine measures.
"According to a recent research conducted by Seoul National University, many people are worried about being infected. However, the rate of compliance with quarantine rules fell sharply in real-life settings," Chung said. "The gap is widening between the awareness of the virus and the practice to contain it."
The most effective way to prevent Covid-19 is to follow quarantine procedures in everyday life, Chung added.
According to the health authorities, the country was far from developing herd immunity, which means that citizens to strictly follow sanitary rules until COVID-19 vaccines become available.
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