Coronavirus: South Korea reports lowest number of new cases in four weeks


South Korea has reported the lowest number of new coronavirus cases since infection rates peaked four weeks ago, fuelling hope Asia’s worst outbreak outside China may be abating.

The country recorded 64 new cases of Covid-19 in the last 24 hours, taking the total to 8,961 with 111 deaths.

But health officials warn against complacency, saying the country still faces a long war against the infection.

Europe is currently at the centre of the pandemic.

Italy reported 651 new deaths on Sunday, bringing the total there to 5,476, while Spain added another 462 deaths in the past 24 hours for a total of 2,182.

In New York, the city mayor warned of a worsening outbreak, with damage accelerated by shortages of key medical supplies.

And the expectation that the battle against the virus will be a long one was reinforced by news from Japan that its prime minister has admitted for the first time that the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games could be postponed.

How different is South Korea’s approach?

Nearly 20,000 people are tested every day for coronavirus in South Korea, more people per capita than anywhere else in the world.

The country has created a network of public and private laboratories and provides dozens of drive-through centres where people with symptoms can check their health status.

South Korea developed its approach after an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) in 2015, when 36 people died in the country, which had the second-largest number of Mers cases after Saudi Arabia.

Mers forced the country to reassess its approach to infectious diseases and its Centres for Disease Control set up a special department to prepare for the worst, a move which appears to have paid off.

Laws on managing and publicly sharing information on patients with infectious diseases changed significantly after Mers and could be seen in action this year when the government used phone alerts to tell people if they were in the vicinity of a patient.

This weekend, the government stepped up preventative action by sending out emergency alerts urging people to stay away from places which encourage mass gatherings such as churches, karaoke rooms, nightclubs and gyms.

It also asked religious leaders to check the temperature of followers and keep them at least two metres apart during any services they deemed necessary.

A number of churches are now facing legal action after violating the guidelines.

Why is South Korea fearing a new wave?

The country has seen two waves of infections, Yonhap news agency reports, the first beginning on 20 January with the first confirmed case, and the second with mass infections among a religious group.

Passengers from London load their baggage on a bus after undergoing COVID-19 tests at a hotel near Incheon International Airport, in Incheon, South Korea, 23 March 2020, to be bussed to a facility for their two-week isolation.
Image captionPassengers arriving in Incheon from London are being quarantined for two weeks

Now there are fears that imported cases could fuel a third wave.

The government plans to install around 20 phone booth-style test facilities inside Incheon Airport to speed up the process of testing all arrivals from Europe.

The new entry procedures started on Sunday. So far 152 people have arrived in the country showing symptoms of the virus and they are awaiting their test results.


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