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(3rd LD) S. Korea's new virus cases lowest in 7 weeks, but social distancing again urged

All News 23:12 April 09, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 4-5, 12, 14)

SEOUL, April 9 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Thursday reported its fewest additional cases of the new coronavirus since late February, as the country is implementing an extended social distancing drive to fight against the virus pandemic.

The 39 new cases, detected Wednesday and down from 53 a day ago, brought the nation's total infections to 10,423, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Medical workers walk to a resting place after working a shift for coronavirus patients at Dongsan Hospital in Daegu, 302 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on April 9, 2020. (Yonhap)

South Korea recorded around 50 or fewer daily new cases for a fourth day in a row, a sharp drop from the Feb. 29 peak of 909 new cases. But health authorities remain on high alert over cluster infections at churches and hospitals, as well as new cases coming from overseas.

The nation's death toll from the coronavirus, which emerged in China late last year, rose by four to 204, according to the KCDC. Three other fatalities have been reported by local health authorities but have not been included in the official tally that is released once a day.

All the most recent deaths were from Daegu, the city that was hit the hardest by the outbreak, with all victims being over 60.

In total, 6,973 people in South Korea have recovered from the virus so far.

It was the first time since Feb. 20 that the daily tally of new infections fell below 40, but Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip warned against complacency.

Since April 1, South Korea has implemented two-week quarantines for all passengers coming from abroad. A total of 16 foreigners have been admitted to an isolation facility in Paju, north of Seoul, and two of them declared cured, Kim said.

Kim thanked front-line medical staff and other workers engaged in containment measures, saying that their "sacrifice and cooperation" have helped South Korea see a continued slowdown in the virus outbreak.

A notice of temporary closure is posted on a cocktail bar in the popular foreigner district of Itaewon in central Seoul on April 9, 2020, after an employee there was confirmed to have been infected with the new coronavirus. (Yonhap)

KCDC Director-General Jeong Eun-kyeong also expressed concerns that social distancing may be eased ahead of the Easter weekend and next week's parliamentary election.

"I earnestly ask people to practice social distancing over the weekend because an explosion of large-scale infections could happen again at anytime," Jeong said.

Those who are put under self-isolation are banned from participating in early voting, but health authorities are in discussions with the government to allow them to vote on April 15, Jeong said.

Daegu and neighboring North Gyeongsang Province, reported four and no new cases, respectively, the KCDC said. The total number of cases reported in the two regions reached 6,807 and 1,320, respectively.

An immigration official clad in protective gear disinfects his desk at an immigration stand exclusively for inbound visitors with symptoms of the new coronavirus at Incheon airport, west of Seoul, on April 8, 2020. (Yonhap)

Other major provinces and cities also reported infections, with Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province adding 12 and 10 new cases, respectively. The capital city's government said it had a total of 597 cases, with a large number of infections linked to foreign arrivals.

The country also detected 10 new cases coming from overseas at border checkpoints, raising the country's total number of imported cases to 861.

Seeking to reduce the daily number of new infections to below 50, South Korea has extended strict guidelines on social distancing by two weeks to April 19. South Korea has tested 494,711 people so far.


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