(ATTN: RECASTS headline; UPDATES paras 4-5, 7; ADDS more info in paras 9-12)
By Joo Kyung-don
SEOUL, April 20 (Yonhap) -- Imported cases of the new coronavirus in South Korea have surpassed 1,000 amid a slowdown in overall new infections, data showed Monday, as health authorities stay alert over a steady rise of cases coming from abroad.
The total number of imported cases in the country has reached 1,006, which accounts for almost 10 percent of the country's total virus cases, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).
South Korea has managed to flatten the curve of new infections since early March, with new COVID-19 cases staying below 20 for the past three consecutive days. The country has so far reported 10,674 cases of the new coronavirus since identifying its first case on Jan. 20.
However, health authorities are still staying vigilant due to a steady stream of imported cases as they now make up 9.4 percent of the county's total virus infections.
In particular, imported cases have accounted for 56.4 percent of the country's confirmed virus cases reported in the last two weeks.
In the last five days, imported cases equaled or outnumbered domestic infections in daily new cases.
Of the 1,006 imported cases, 922, or 91.7 percent were South Korean nationals, according to the KCDC. More than 61 percent of the imported cases were identified between March 22 and April 4, it added.
The KCDC said 418 were detected at border checkpoints, while 588 were identified by municipal health authorities.
By age group, those in their 20s accounted for 493 cases of the total imported cases, followed by people in their 30s with 197 cases. Of the 1,006 imported cases, 515 were women.
By region, those from Europe and the United States each accounted for 439 cases, followed by 108 cases coming from Asian countries excluding China.
"Imported cases started to surge in March," the KCDC said. "At first, many imported cases were related with Asian countries, but we saw many cases coming from Europe in March and from the United States in April."
The KCDC said a total of 157 patients have contracted the virus through 61 people who came from overseas, with 89 of them being their family members. However, community spread from imported cases has not been reported since April 1 when the country started to enforce a mandatory two-week self-quarantine for all arrivals.
Experts said South Korea is likely to deal with a steady rise in imported cases for quite some time as many countries around the globe are struggling to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
So far, more than 2.2 million cases have been confirmed, with the global death toll exceeding 152,000, in over 200 countries or territories, according to data from the World Health Organization.
South Korea has not used draconian measures, such as a border lockdown. But in order to better control imported cases, the country has required all entrants from overseas to self-quarantine for 14 days since April 1.
Visitors without local addresses are ordered to stay in state-designated facilities at their own expense.
All travelers from Europe and the U.S. are currently required to receive virus tests regardless of symptoms.
Since last Monday, the government also has suspended visa-free entry and visa waiver programs for some 90 countries imposing entry bans on South Koreans to better curb the coronavirus inflow from abroad.
Due to such quarantine measures, health authorities said the average daily number of entrants from overseas dropped to around 4,000 last week, down from 7,000 arrivals in late March.
Since Friday, the government has asked all late-night international flights to arrive in South Korea between 5 a.m. and 8 p.m., so that travelers from overseas can undergo quarantine inspections quickly and reduce their time spent at airports waiting for transportation.
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