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(2nd LD) S. Korea to conduct coronavirus tests on pneumonia patients

All News 20:05 February 16, 2020

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, paras 1-5)

SEOUL, Feb. 16 (Yonhap) -- South Korea said Sunday that it will test pneumonia patients for novel coronavirus to check whether the potentially deadly virus has already spread across the nation.

After a meeting presided over by Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, the government decided to run the coronavirus COVID-19 tests on pneumonia patients whose cause of disease remains unknown.

Those who have suspected symptoms of the virus without records of overseas travel will also be subject to the coronavirus test in a bid to discover infections as soon as possible.

"The government thinks that it is the time to make all efforts to prevent further spread of the virus to regional areas," Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said in a press briefing after the government meeting. "We will discover infected patients as soon as possible and set up a monitoring system, as well as strengthen infection prevention system led by medical centers."

The decision came after the country reported its 29th case of the novel coronavirus 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 Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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 a briefing held early in the day. "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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