South Korea reported 516 new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing the nation’s total number of infections to 5,328, with the outbreak in the southeastern city of Daegu, the hotspot here, showing little sign of a slowdown.
So far, 32 people, mostly elderly patients with underlying illnesses, have died in South Korea from the respiratory virus that emerged in China late last year, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.
About 60 percent of confirmed cases have been linked to a branch of the Shincheonji religious sect in Daegu, the country’s fourth-largest city, with a population of 2.5 million.
However, health authorities have shifted their focus to testing ordinary citizens in Daegu, citing an alarming level of community spread.
Of the 516 new cases, which were detected on Tuesday, 405 are in Daegu and 89 are in neighboring North Gyeongsang Province, the two epicenters of the virus outbreak here, the KCDC said.
The total confirmed cases in Daegu and North Gyeongsang stood at 4,006 and 774, respectively.
Following the report of the first case in South Korea on Jan. 20, the pace of infections had not been alarming until Feb. 18, when a 61-year-old woman linked to the Shincheonji sect in Daegu tested positive for the virus.
Since then, the nation has seen an explosion in infections and has accelerated virus tests on potential cases.
South Korea has released 41 fully recovered novel coronavirus patients from hospitals as of Tuesday, up 7 from a day earlier, the KCDC said.
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The number of people being checked for the virus and under quarantine came to 28,474 as of Tuesday, down 7,141 from the day before, it added. The country has tested a total of 131,379 suspected cases, with 102,965 testing negative.
The number of tests in Korea is exceptionally high compared to countries like Japan and the U.S. Medical experts worldwide, especially in the U.S., lauded Korea’s response to the outbreak.
Todd Ellerin, director of infectious disease at South Shore Health in Massachusetts, said the massive number of tests Korea has administered is impressive. “It’s an urgent situation right now, and that’s how we (the U.S.) should be adjusting,” he added.
Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist at Boston’s Harvard Chan School of Public Health said, “I definitely respect their earnestness and transparency.”
Scott Gottlieb of the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute mentioned “very detailed COVID-19 reporting from (Korean) health officials,” adding that Korea is “demonstrating a significant diagnostic capability.”
Foreign media also noted the speed of diagnostic testing in Korea and the COVID-19 test kit developed there. TBS and ABC reported tests being quickly conducted at private hospitals and public health labs.
“A big reason for (Korea’s) success is how quickly they were able to get test kits ready,” ABC said, citing “drive-through” centers recently set up to allow screening of people in their cars.
Currently, there is no evidence that the new coronavirus is airborne. The World Health Organization said the virus is transmitted through droplets or close contact. The best measures to protect yourself from the virus are to wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds and avoid mass gatherings, health officials said.