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(5th LD) 7 virus patients fully recovered, confirmed cases still at 28

All Headlines 22:04 February 12, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 12-16; CHANGES photos)

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.

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."

Medical personnel at Chosun University Hospital in Gwangju, 330 kilometers south of Seoul, inspect equipment in a negative pressure chamber used to treat people with infectious disease, in this photo provided by the hospital on Feb. 12, 2020. The hospital is currently treating three people infected with COVID-19. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Jung also said it is 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.

In regards to the 28th patient who tested positive after the presumed 14-day incubation period on Monday, doctors here said that the 30-year-old Chinese woman's case seems to involve a very mild infection, with her condition only being detected at the "recovery" stage.

They said that there is no evidence to suggest that the woman got sick after the two-week period, a possibility that drew a lot of attention and worried many people, and that this incident may have been complicated by the use of anti-inflammatory painkillers. Such a drug may have prevented her from feeling ill.

She and the man who supposedly infected her last met on Jan. 24.

Experts said her test that came back as "indeterminate" on Saturday should actually be viewed as a "positive" result. They said that even now she is not feeling ill and that in her present state she should not be able to pass on the virus to others.

Related to the incident, the KCDC said that it plans to revise its quarantine rules on people who have come into contact with infected people to include checks for medication that can influence symptoms.

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.

An evacuee airlifted from the coronavirus-stricken Chinese city of Wuhan is taken inside the National Medical Centerin downtown Seoul on Feb. 12, 2020, after showing signs of COVID-19 infection upon arrival in South Korea. (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 two weeks.

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.

khj@yna.co.kr
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