28th virus case confirmed in S. Korea, strict quarantine in store for Hong Kong, Macao arrivals

Jay Yim, Feb. 11, 2020, 9:50 a.m.

South Korea on Tuesday confirmed one more case of the novel coronavirus, bringing the total here to 28, while more virus-infected patients are expected to fully recover following four discharge cases.

The number of people tested for the coronavirus reached 4,325 as of late Tuesday, with 3,535 of them testing negative, sharply up from 2,736 earlier in the day, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). Another 762 are currently in quarantine to be checked for the novel virus.

Four virus-infected patients have been released from hospitals after fully recovering as of late Tuesday, according to the health agency, with more discharge cases expected Wednesday.

In an enhanced effort to stem additional virus outbreak, South Korea's public health authorities said they will apply strict quarantine screening to entrants from Hong Kong and Macao starting on Wednesday.

The strict screening measure comes after reports that the country's 26th and 27th confirmed cases stayed in China's Guangdong province for three months before returning here on Jan. 31 via Macao.

"The possibility of an inflow of coronavirus patients from such regions heightened as Hong Kong reported 36 confirmed cases and one death, and Macao reported 10 cases as of Monday," Jung Eun-kyeong, the head of the KCDC, said.

Passengers from mainland China are currently required to use "China-only" arrival counters at airports, according to the KCDC.

They must also write a special quarantine report, filling out health questionnaires to check whether they have a fever or respiratory problems, officials said. They must also disclose any visits to Hubei province -- the epicenter of the global outbreak -- in the past two weeks.

Those who fail to provide their mobile phone numbers and the address of their local accommodations are banned from entering the country, officials said.

Health authorities also said they are reviewing whether to apply strict quarantine screening to arrivals from Singapore.

The KCDC said the latest patient is a 30-year-old Chinese woman who is highly likely to have been infected from the country's third confirmed case.

She had been in self-quarantine before testing positive for the new virus, the public health agency said.

She has not shown any symptoms of the coronavirus, and her doctor said she could even be considered for an immediate discharge.

In an effort to contain the virus that has rapidly spread across Asia, the health authorities strongly advised nationals to refrain from traveling to the six countries, other than China, with the most confirmed cases -- Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand.

"The measure is part of efforts to prevent the inflow of the novel coronavirus into the country through a third nation," Kim Gang-lip, deputy head of the central disaster headquarters, said during a regular press briefing earlier.

On Sunday, the World Health Organization (WHO) picked the six countries as possible places where the virus is spreading within communities.

The advisory was made by the disaster headquarters that is operated by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, and it is separate from a regular travel warning announced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The foreign ministry currently maintains the second-highest level of "withdrawal recommendation" for China's Hubei province. It also applies the alert level of "restraint," the third highest in its four-tier travel warning system, for the entire country, including Hong Kong and Macao.

The public health authorities will also start providing travel information on countries with confirmed cases to local medical institutions and pharmacies later in the day in an effort to create stronger safeguards.

The countries include Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Macao, officials said, adding that Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia will soon be added to the list.

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