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(4th LD) 7 virus patients fully recovered, confirmed cases still at 28

All News 17:39 February 12, 2020

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead with updated info and tally; RECASTS throughout; CHANGES photos; COMBINES with a story slugged coronavirus-HIV drug)

SEOUL, Feb. 12 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Wednesday released three more patients with the novel coronavirus from quarantine, in addition to four previous discharge cases, and its confirmed cases remained unchanged at 28.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said the country's third, eighth and 17th virus-infected patients were released from quarantine after full recoveries.

The number of people who have tested negative for the COVID-19 virus reached 4,811 as of late Wednesday, with another 785 undergoing tests for possible infection, according to the KCDC.

Jung Eun-kyeong, head of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), gives a briefing on domestic coronavirus infections at the KCDC headquarters in Cheongju, 137 kilometers south of Seoul, on Feb. 12, 2020. (Yonhap)

Another 21 patients currently being treated at hospitals for the virus are also in stable condition, the health agency said.

"There have never been serious cases that have required intensive care unit treatment," said Jung Eun-kyeong, head of the KCDC. "Just one patient has a fever and shows mild symptoms of pneumonia."

Jung also said it is too premature to judge whether an epidemic peak is near, after China reported its lowest daily number of new coronavirus cases since late January.

"The number of new cases in China lowered from over 3,000 a day to the 2,000-level," Jung said. "However, it is too soon to judge whether the outbreak has passed its peak or reached its inflection point."

Meanwhile, the patient in the country's third case was released from a local hospital earlier in the day, after being administered with anti-HIV medication, according to his doctors.

"It looks like the anti-retroviral medication Kaletra that is used for AIDS treatment seemed to have some effect on the novel coronavirus," Lee Wang-jun, chairman of Myongji Hospital's board of directors, told reporters. "The viral level dramatically decreased the day after the administration of Kaletra, and his pneumonia symptoms improved."

Kaletra is the HIV medication sold by global pharmaceutical firm AbbVie Inc. There have been reports across the globe of several patients who have fully recovered with drug mixtures that include Kaletra despite some controversies over its usefulness in treating the virus.

Yim Jae-kyun, another doctor of the patient, also said the findings show that Kaletra should be administered to COVID-19 patients with underlying diseases or those at risk of pneumonia at an early stage of treatment.

A tourist from Hong Kong shows a smartphone application that the health ministry has released to help people check if they have coronavirus, dubbed COVID-19, at the arrival gate of Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Feb. 12, 2020. (Yonhap)

In an enhanced effort to stem spread of the virus, strict quarantine screening was enforced against entrants from Hong Kong and Macao, in addition to mainland China, starting earlier in the day.

The strict screening measure comes after reports that the country's 26th and 27th confirmed patients stayed in China's Guangdong province and traveled via Macao.

Passengers from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macao are required to use separate arrival counters at international airports across the country, according to the KCDC.

They must also write a special quarantine report, filling out health questionnaires to check whether they have a fever or respiratory problems, officials said. They must also disclose any visits to Hubei province -- the epicenter of the global outbreak -- in the past two weeks.

Those who fail to provide their mobile phone numbers and the address of their local accommodations are banned from entering the country, officials said.

Upon arrival in the country, they must also download a mobile application to report their health status every day, the government said.

Those failing to fill out their status, including such details as cough or fever, for more than two days after their arrival will receive phone calls from health authorities, officials said.

The government will then locate their whereabouts if they do not answer the phone calls.

Buses carrying a third group of South Korean evacuees, their Chinese spouses and family members from the coronavirus-stricken Chinese city of Wuhan, enter the Korea Defense Language Institute in Icheon, 80 kilometers south of Seoul, on Feb. 12, 2020. (Yonhap)

Meanwhile, the country's third evacuation flight from the coronavirus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan arrived back in Seoul earlier in the day carrying 147 people comprising South Korean citizens and their Chinese spouses and family members.

The health authorities said five of them showed symptoms of the coronavirus and were sent to a hospital in central Seoul to undergo tests for possible infection.

The others will be tightly quarantined at a temporary shelter in Icheon, 80 kilometers south of Seoul, for the next 14 days, the presumed incubation period for the virus.

The other 700 nationals who were brought back into the country through two previous chartered flights will all be discharged from state-run facilities over the weekend as planned following a 14-day quarantine period.

Earlier, the World Health Organization (WHO) unveiled an official name for the novel virus: COVID-19.


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