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(5th LD) S. Korea back on alert over community transmission, 1 more virus case brings total to 30

All News 17:20 February 17, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 5, 8-14)

SEOUL, Feb. 17 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Monday identified another case of the novel coronavirus, bringing the total number of infections to 30, with the latest two cases forcing the health authorities to actively take steps to prevent community transmission.

According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), the country's latest patient is the 68-year-old wife of the 29th infected person, who tested positive for the virus Sunday.

The 82-year-old man is not known to have made contact with the country's other patients with the coronavirus or recently traveled abroad. He had volunteered to transport lunch boxes to elderly people living alone and to senior centers through a regional welfare organization and was only diagnosed with the illness when he visited a hospital after visiting two clinics, drug stores and a hospital.

The KCDC said that the man had previous respiratory problems that caused doctors not to suspect he was infected with the coronavirus. The patient has been confirmed to have made contact with 114 people, with 76 of them being those in the emergency center at a Seoul hospital.

A notice placed on the entrance of Seoul National University Hospital in downtown Seoul warns people of restrictions placed on visitors to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on Feb. 17, 2020. (Yonhap)

Both the man and his wife are in quarantine, with the woman having a mild fever. The couple probably started showing some signs of infection around Feb. 5-6, with health authorities vetting the two weeks before they started showing symptoms to see how they contracted the virus.

"In light of the highly contagious nature of the virus, even when an infected person shows almost no symptoms, authorities must maintain the highest level of vigilance and take proactive measures," Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said in a press conference.

Kim said that every movement of the couple needs to be scrutinized before determining if they were infected through unknown routes.

Details of those who have been in contact with the couple and places they visited will be made public later.

The KCDC said the number of people being checked for the virus and under quarantine came to 708 as of Monday afternoon. South Korea has screened 8,718 people for COVID-19 since Jan. 3, with 7,980 testing negative and 10 people having been released from quarantine after making full recoveries.

The latest patient discharged from a hospital is a 30-year-old Chinese woman who had shown no signs of being sick even when she was diagnosed with the infection on Feb. 11.

On broader efforts to deal with the spread of the virus, the country is considering testing those who suffer from pneumonia due to unknown causes for the potential COVID-19 virus at the discretion of medical personnel.

South Korea also said it plans to greatly increase the number of COVID-19 tests it can conduct on a daily basis from the current 5,000 to 10,000 by the end of the month so as to better identify and isolate infected people.

The country is also mulling a move to change the country's virus screening rules once again to make it possible to check more people who may have been infected.

Quarantine workers in protective suits and masks disinfect a library in Seongdong Ward in Seoul on Feb. 16, 2020, in this photo provided by the ward office. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

As part of its ongoing efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it has called on all 1,470 convalescent hospitals and similar institutions in the country to bar all workers who have traveled to Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the current outbreak, from working and to screen all caregivers who look after patients for travel abroad and symptoms so they do not inadvertently infect people who are in poor health. Caregivers are usually not employees of hospitals but are hired by patients and their families.

"Everyone who has traveled to infected areas must be placed in self-quarantine for 14 days," Seoul's health ministry said. All convalescent homes will moreover be required to check people for any signs of fever, it added.

The country said earlier it will take extra steps to keep close tabs on Chinese students who are enrolled in South Korean schools, with all local educational institutions to take charge of such people and report any signs of illness.

It said that South Korean nationals who are currently on a cruise ship in Japan and allowed to return home after being screened by Japanese authorities will still be required to remain in mandatory quarantine for two weeks after arrival as a precautionary move.

yonngong@yna.co.kr
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