(ATTN: REWRITES headline, lead; UPDATES with more info throughout)
SEOUL, Feb. 8 (Yonhap) -- The number of people in South Korea held in quarantine and undergoing new coronavirus tests jumped to 939 on Saturday, with the number of confirmed cases here remaining at 24.
The health protection agency said the figure rose nearly threefold from 327 people recorded on Friday as Seoul has expanded the scope of people eligible to be tested for the contagious virus and allowed more hospitals to conduct the tests.
The country has tested 2,097 people for the new coronavirus since Jan. 3, topping the 2,000 mark for the first time, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). Of them, 1,134 people have tested negative.
It said that 1,420 people who have come in contact with infected people have been identified and quarantined for monitoring so far, with 1,090 currently in isolation. The total is up from 1,386 people who were tallied the day before, according to the KCDC.
Of all the people confirmed to have contracted the virus here, two who have fully recovered have been released. The total now in quarantine and undergoing treatment stands at 22, with health authorities stressing that all are in stable condition.
The KCDC, however, said not a single patient has been discharged in the day, with details to be announced later.
The third and fourth patients, both Korean nationals in their 50s, meanwhile, have mostly recovered, the KCDC said. The two patients had the longest treatment period.
Of the confirmed cases in the country, eight contracted the illness here likely through person-to-person transmissions, 11 recently visited China, and five visited Singapore, Thailand and Japan. Four of the total treated for the virus were Chinese nationals, with the rest being South Koreans.
The public health agency said the 16th patient who visited Thailand has made contact with 362 people in the country after her return on Jan. 19. Two others in her family have been infected, with Seoul working with Bangkok to determine how she was infected.
In regards to the two men who were found to have caught the virus after attending the same business meeting in Singapore, the KCDC said they have been told there were Chinese citizens from Wuhan at the gathering.
South Korea, which reported its first confirmed case on Jan. 20, has stepped up its response to controlling the spread of the new coronavirus. The country has expanded the scope of its checks to anyone who has visited any part of China and shown symptoms like an elevated temperature or respiratory issues.
These people are classified as "suspected cases" and are subject to a medical check, according to the KCDC. People who are suffering from pneumonia brought on by unknown causes can also be examined for the virus.
Previously, South Korea only checked people who felt sick within 14 days of returning from Hubei.
South Korea also bars entry to foreigners who visited or stayed in Hubei, where Wuhan is located, in the previous two weeks.
On Friday, a quick test for the new coronavirus became available at 124 public health centers across the country in the latest effort to further stem the spread of the disease here.
Those who have been to China in the last 14 days and feel ill can visit health centers for a check-up. In addition, doctors at the centers can at their own discretion test a person even if he or she has not been to China recently.
The health ministry here said for now, the country can carry out some 3,000 tests on a daily basis, although priority will be placed on people who have been abroad and those with acute signs of illness. The goal is to conduct at least 5,000 tests per day.
Besides domestic efforts to halt the spread of the illness, the government said it is keeping close tabs on developments in China.
"The Lunar New Year holiday that was extended by authorities to prevent the spread of the virus officially ends Sunday, so there will be a spike in the movement of people that pose risks," a senior official said. South Korea in the next one or two weeks will concentrate its quarantine efforts on monitoring everyone who arrives from China.
All costs associated with the tests will be covered by the state, with Seoul saying it will provide 1.23 million won (US$1,030) per month to a four-person family with a member in quarantine.
The health ministry said that the monthly living expenses allowance will be provided to anyone who has been in quarantine for more than 14 days, with foreign nationals also eligible for support. It said the move is to compensate people who cooperate with the ongoing effort to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.
If a person without a family is quarantined, the government said it will provide 454,900 won if that person has been in isolation for two weeks. The total amount will be adjusted to reflect the size of the family and the period a person is in quarantine. The compensation rules apply to those that are in self-quarantine as well.
The ministry, however, said those that received paid leave from their companies will not be able to apply for the compensation pay.
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