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(2nd LD) New coronavirus infections fall below 20 for first time in two months

All News 14:01 April 18, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS more details, comments in paras 5, 9, 13-17, photo)

SEOUL, April 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korea reported 18 additional cases of the novel coronavirus Saturday, marking the lowest daily increase in about two months.

The new cases brought the country's total infections to 10,653, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

It is the first time since Feb. 20 that the country's new COVID-19 infections came below 20. Over the past five days, the country reported fewer than 30 new patients per day.

The number of South Korea's daily new cases reached a peak of 909 on Feb. 29, but the country has since managed to flatten the curve amid stringent quarantine and social distancing measures.

"From Monday, we've seen a total of 141 new patients, which is down 40 percent from the past week. It is about a quarter compared to two weeks earlier," Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip told a regular briefing.

The country's death toll came to 232, as two more coronavirus deaths were added Friday.

The number of patients released from quarantine after making full recoveries stood at 7,937, up 108 from a day earlier, KCDC data showed.

Nurses get prepared to take care of coronavirus patients at a hospital in Daegu on April 17, 2020. (Yonhap)

Of the 18 new cases, three cases were reported from the southeastern city of Daegu, once the epicenter of the virus, and the surrounding North Gyeongsang Province added two more cases, according to the KCDC.

The number of people in Daegu who were receiving treatment for the virus fell below 1,000 to stand at 985, as 5,685 people have been released after full recoveries, it noted.

Seoul and Gyeonggi Province reported one and four more cases, respectively.

Nine of the fresh infections were from abroad, with four being detected at border checkpoints, according to the authorities. The total number of imported cases is now at 992.

In the wake of a surge in the number of imported cases amid the global pandemic, South Korea has enforced mandatory 14-day self-isolation for all travelers coming from overseas since April 1.

Despite the downward trend, the government has been on high vigilance and called for strict adherence to anti-virus measures and the social distancing campaign, adding that it will announce its decision Sunday on whether to change its quarantine regime to put more focus on supporting the everyday lives of people.

"Our society has been successfully delaying the spread of the COVID-19 virus through social distancing. But that does not mean that the virus disappears completely or we are able to return to the life we had led before the outbreak," he said.

Close monitoring for an additional one or two weeks is needed to analyze possible impacts of electioneering for Wednesday's general elections, among other factors, according to the vice minister.

"Factoring in diverse impacts (of the virus) on the economy and society in a comprehensive manner, the government has been working to draw new guidelines that could apply to everyday life. We will do our best to come up with a reasonable direction by tomorrow," Kim added.

From March 22, the government has intensified its social distancing drive, forcing all major public facilities, including schools and private gyms, to shut down to stop the spread of the virus. The guidance is in effect until Sunday.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun asked the public to keep up with social distancing as concerns rise over its possible loosening during upcoming holidays, which could span for about a week starting at the end of this month.

A local market in South Korea's southeastern city of Daegu is crowded with consumers on April 17, 2020, amid a reduced number of newly confirmed COVID-19 patients in the country. (Yonhap)

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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