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(6th LD) New virus cases stay below 30 for 4th straight day

All News 23:02 April 16, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 7, 12-13)

SEOUL, April 16 (Yonhap) -- South Korea reported fewer than 30 new coronavirus cases for the fourth straight day Thursday, but health authorities are staying vigilant over imported cases and cluster infections following parliamentary elections the previous day.

The 22 new cases, detected Wednesday and slightly down from 27 a day ago, brought the nation's total infections to 10,613, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Military medical officials clad in protective suits disinfect chairs at a church in Daegu on April 16, 2020. (Yonhap)

Thursday's new virus cases also mark a sharp drop from the Feb. 29 peak of 909 new cases. The country's daily number of new virus cases has been below 50 for the last eight days.

But health authorities remain on high alert over new cases coming from overseas, as well as cluster infections at churches and hospitals.

They are also keeping an eye on those who retested positive for COVID-19. A total of 141 people who had been declared cured have tested positive for COVID-19 again, with 34 of them in their 20s.

Of the 22 new cases, half of them were from overseas.

The nation's death toll from the new coronavirus, which emerged in China late last year, rose by four to 229, according to the KCDC, with one more fatality reported during the day, but not included in the official tally that is only released on a daily basis.

The number of patients released from quarantine after making full recoveries reached 7,757, up 141 from a day earlier.

Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said although recent figures related to the novel coronavirus appear to be "positive," the country should not let its guard down after a large number of people went outside to cast their ballots in the parliamentary elections Wednesday.

"The government wants to thank election and health officials for completing the parliamentary elections amid the crisis with a high voter turnout," he said. "But considering the incubation period of COVID-19, we have to wait one or two weeks to see whether our quarantine measures on the voting day have really worked."

A teacher uses an online learning program at an empty classroom at an elementary school in Seoul on April 16, 2020, amid the spread of the novel coronavirus. (Yonhap)

The southeastern city of Daegu, the nation's worst virus-hit region, and its surrounding North Gyeongsang Province each added four new cases.

The total number of cases reported in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province has now reached 6,827 and 1,352, respectively. Public health authorities in the province said they are paying close attention to cases emerging from rural Yecheon region that has 31 cases in total. Lax adherence to the government's social distancing guidlines have been cited as the cause of the infections.

Other major provinces and cities also reported infections, with Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province adding two and four new cases, respectively. The capital has city confirmed 621 cases of COVID-19.

The country detected four new cases coming from overseas at border checkpoints. The total number of imported cases is now at 967.

Since April 1, South Korea has enforced mandatory 14-day self-quarantines for all travelers coming from overseas to better contain imported cases.

Seeking to bring the daily number of new infections to below 50, South Korea extended strict guidelines on social distancing by two weeks to Sunday.

Health officials urged those in self-isolation to keep quarantine rules, as the number of people breaching such rules have raised public concerns.

As of Wednesday, a total of 231 were caught violating self-isolation orders, with 140 of them facing legal action.

Among 11,151 self-isolating South Koreans who cast their ballots Wednesday, four of them broke quarantine rules, according to health authorities.

Election officials wearing face masks sort ballot papers to count votes for the general elections at a vote-counting center in Busan on April 15, 2020. (Yonhap)

The government previously announced that those in self-quarantine would be accompanied by health officials from their isolation facilities to polling stations at a separately designated time, but some of them apparently visited other places without the authorities' permission.

South Korea has vowed to show no leniency toward those who breach quarantine rules. Violators could face up to one year in jail or a fine of up to 10 million won (US$8,200), and they will be asked to wear electronic wristbands for the rest of their quarantine period. Foreigners could be deported if they break quarantine rules.

The KCDC said there is little possibility that the virus can be transmitted through patients' blood or feces.

After conducting virus culture tests on 24 blood and fecal samples collected from 74 patients, the KDCD said it found that no virus strain was able to be isolated from blood or feces, meaning it is difficult for COVID-19 to be transmitted through routes other than the respiratory system.

Military medical officials clad in protective suits disinfect a hallway at a middle school in Daegu on April 16, 2020. (Yonhap)

Health authorities said local researchers will join clinical trials for a coronavirus vaccine in cooperation with the International Vaccine Institute. They said clinical trials are planned in South Korea using a DNA vaccine candidate developed by U.S. pharmaceutical firm Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc.

The KCDC said clinical trials are expected to start in June, with phase one of the trial involving 40 adults and phase two testing 160 adults.

The KCDC said the government is discussing with experts new prevention guidelines that would allow people to return to their daily lives. However, it opposed the idea of issuing immunity certificates to those who have recovered from COVID-19 with antibodies.

"Issuing such immunity certificates would be a hasty decision," KCDC Deputy Director Kwon Jun-wook said. "At this point, we have not fully analyzed antibodies to the virus."


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