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(4th LD) New coronavirus infections fall to single digits for first time in 2 months

All News 15:56 April 19, 2020

(ATTN: RECASTS lead; ADDS details throughout; TRIMS)

SEOUL, April 19 (Yonhap) -- South Korea on Sunday reported eight new cases of COVID-19 to mark the first time in around two months for the total to rise by a single-digit number, making the country confident enough to partially ease its thorough social distancing drive.

The figure for cases detected on Saturday fell from a day earlier when new infections reached 18, bringing the total infections to 10,661, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

After reporting the first case on Jan. 20, the number of daily new cases in the country stayed in the single digits through Feb. 18. The number of patients, however, soon skyrocketed centering on members of a church group in the southeastern city of Daegu and other cluster infections from hospitals.

The number of South Korea's daily new cases reached a peak of 909 on Feb. 29.

On the back of the country's all-out efforts to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, however, the number of new infections announced stayed below 30 from Monday to Friday and slipped to below 20 on Saturday.

Medical workers get ready to enter a special ward for coronavirus patients at Keimyung University Daegu Dongsan Hospital in the southeastern city of Daegu on April 19, 2020. (Yonhap)

Despite the signs of a slowdown, health authorities still remain vigilant over new cases coming from overseas, as well as over those who are retesting positive for COVID-19.

Of the eight new cases, five were detected from arrivals from foreign countries. The total number of such cases reached 998, taking up around 9 percent of the overall infections.

While the country has conducted virus tests on 550,109 people so far, the latest decrease in the number of new infections also came as fewer tests have been carried out over the weekend.

Health authorities carried out 4,275 tests on Saturday, which was sharply down from 8,371 posted on Friday.

"Although the number of new infections has been decreasing, the decline was made possible due to the social distancing moves made until last week," the KCDC said in a statement. "Considering Easter and the general election, we plan to take a closer look for another week."

South Korea held the general elections on Wednesday. Despite the virus, more than 29 million people cast ballots at polling stations nationwide wearing face masks and plastic gloves.

Visitors take a stroll at a park in Yeouido, western Seoul, on April 19, 2020. (Yonhap)

The nation's death toll from the novel virus, which emerged in China late last year, rose by two to 234, according to the KCDC.

South Korea's COVID-19 fatality rate reached 2.19 percent. The rate, however, came to 9.65 percent for patients in their 70s and 23.24 percent for those in their 80s.

The number of patients released from quarantine after making full recoveries reached 8,042, up 105 from a day earlier.

The number of people who have tested positive again for COVID-19 after making full recoveries has reached 179.

Daegu, the nation's worst virus-hit region that accounts for around 64 percent of the total cases, added two new cases. Its surrounding North Gyeongsang Province reported only one new case.

The total number of cases reported in Daegu and the surrounding North Gyeongsang Province reached 6,832 and 1,359, respectively.

Seoul, the most populous city of South Korea, also reported only two new cases, with the surrounding Gyeonggi Province adding no new COVID-19 infections.

South Korea has been intensifying its social distancing drive since late March, recommending that churches, sports facilities and clubs suspend operations to curb cluster infections of the virus.

While the all-out social distancing campaign was supposed to run through Sunday, Seoul announced later in the day that it will extend the drive until May 5, but with less intensity.

The extension apparently took into account the possibility that outdoor activity could increase as the country will mark Buddha's birthday on April 30, Labor Day on May 1 and Children's Day on May 5.

South Korea said that, depending on the situation, it will slowly move towards so-called everyday life quarantine after the new deadline.

Medical workers get ready to enter a special ward for coronavirus patients at Keimyung University Daegu Dongsan Hospital in the southeastern city of Daegu on April 19, 2020. (Yonhap)

colin@yna.co.kr
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