Korea’s new Covid-19 cases sank below 40 on Tuesday, but health officials remained on thin ice as they kept fighting virus rushing in and out of the country.
The nation recorded 33 new cases -- 14 local infections and 19 foreign cases -- raising the cumulative caseload to 13,512 as of midnight Monday, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Seventy-eight more people were recovered, raising the number of cured patients to 12,282, with 941 receiving treatment. The death toll remained unchanged at 289. The country, with a population of 50 million, has carried out 1,420,616 tests since Jan. 3.
The greater Seoul area, which includes the western port city of Incheon and surrounding Gyeonggi Province, accounted for most of the local infections with 11. However, Incheon did not report any cases. Despite the hardly diminishing cluster infections in the Seoul metro region, other regions saw declines in confirmed cases with the health authorities confirming two new cases in North Jeolla Province and one in North Chungcheong Province.
Gwangju, 330 km southwest of Seoul, has become a new hotspot of the virus since June 27 but reported no additional infections for the first time in 17 days.
In contrast to the slight let-up on the local front, imported cases remained an obstacle in the country's virus fight, recording double-digit figures for the 19th consecutive day.
Under current regulations, all local and foreign nationals who enter Korea from abroad are immediately quarantined and diagnosed when suspected symptoms appear in the quarantine process. Even if they show no symptoms, they must undergo quarantine at government-designated facilities or self-isolation for 14 days, while taking a diagnostic test within three days of their arrival.
The government added a new anti-coronavirus measure for travelers arriving from four high-risk nations -- Bangladesh, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – beginning Monday. Travelers from these countries must submit a certification, which shows they have tested negative for the virus dated within 48 hours of their departure time.
According to health officials, the additional measure is likely to sharply reduce the likelihood of overseas infections spreading to local communities. However, some experts warn against the possibility of temporary living facilities for foreigners becoming saturated if the current increase in foreign inflows does not slow down.
The nation currently operates 3,022 temporary living facilities at eight places in the greater Seoul area, and 2,471 of them are occupied.
Experts are concerned that if the living facilities become fully occupied, the government may have to shift from quarantining foreign entrants to actively monitoring them, which will increase the chances of spreads to local communities.
"If the number of foreign inflow patients increases, there is a concern that the quarantine and medical system may be overburdened," Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo said Monday. "We need a countermeasure to resolve part of these burdens in advance."
Until the situation aggravates further, however, the government will keep conducting a thorough quarantine procedure on foreign arrivals, Park added.
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