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(LEAD) S. Korea considering conducting coronavirus tests on pneumonia patients

All News 16:32 February 16, 2020

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead to clarify that the scop of testing will be determined later; ADDS more info from 7th para)

SEOUL, Feb. 16 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is considering testing pneumonia patients for novel coronavirus, health authorities here said Sunday, to check whether the potentially deadly virus has already spread across the nation.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), said the government is considering running the coronavirus tests on pneumonia patients as early as possible after consulting with respiratory and infectious disease experts.

Jung Eun-kyeong, head of the agency, said earlier that the government is considering testing all hospitalized pneumonia patients across the country, but officials later clarified that the scope of testing will be determined later.

The KCDC's latest decision comes after the country reported its 29th case of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, earlier in the day.

The 29th patient, who had no record of overseas travel, was identified after doctors decided to run coronavirus tests when he was found to have pneumonia. The latest patient, an 82-year-old man, is also believed currently to have had no contact with the country's other virus-confirmed patients.

Common symptoms of the coronavirus include fever, sore throat and breathing difficulties, with more acute cases involving chills and muscle pain and severe cases developing into pneumonia.

The KCDC has been closely monitoring and checking coronavirus patients and people who made physical contact with them. But to further stem the virus' spread across the country, the KCDC said it may run coronavirus tests on some pneumonia patients.

Health authorities close the emergency room of a Seoul hospital on Feb. 16, 2020, after finding out that South Korea's 29th coronavirus patient had visited the facility. (Yonhap)

"If the virus spread has expanded to regional communities, there is a need to classify many respiratory patients," Jung, head of KCDC, said. "In this case, we believe that strengthened quarantine and monitoring systems are needed for respiratory patients."

To better deal with the novel coronavirus, the KCDC said Saturday it is considering a move to incorporate the COVID-19 screening into its overall influenza checks so as to prevent infections from slipping past its quarantine regime.

South Korea, like other countries, keeps watch for influenza outbreaks with some 200 clinics around the country reporting on cases to the government with samples being tested so alerts can be issued if necessary.

There have been concerns that the COVID-19 may turn into a seasonal illness, like the flu, that could pose challenges for authorities.

kdon@yna.co.kr
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