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Korea confirms three more coronavirus cases

Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials transfer a patient who had been in isolation at a hosptial in Gwangju to another facility on Wednesday. Yonhap
Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials transfer a patient who had been in isolation at a hosptial in Gwangju to another facility on Wednesday. Yonhap

South Korea on Wednesday confirmed three more cases of coronavirus infection, pushing up the total to 19, while the second confirmed patient was released from hospital later in the day.

According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention three more people have been confirmed to have the virus, including another individual who appears to have contracted the virus in a third country.

The patient discharged is a 55-year-old man who was the second Korean to be infected with the virus after visiting Wuhan in Hubei province. The man was treated at the National Medical Center in Seoul, where he was given treatments including drugs used for treating HIV. 

As for the newly confirmed patients, the KCDC said that one is a 38-year-old man who had visited Singapore from Jan. 18 to 24 to attend a conference. He visited a medical facility designated for coronavirus treatment on Tuesday after being informed that another conference attendee was found to have the virus in Malaysia.

The man, tagged the 17th patient here, is the third case in which a Korean was confirmed to have the virus without a clear link to Wuhan, China.

The first such case involved a 49-year-old man who had visited Japan, and the second involved a 42-year-old woman -- the 16th patient -- who had visited Thailand before being confirmed to be infected with the virus.

The 42-year-old woman is also the mother of the other patient confirmed Wednesday. According to the KCDC, the 16th patient appears to have passed on the virus to her daughter while the latter was recovering from an unrelated medical procedure at a hospital in Gwangju.

All patients and staff who were on the same floor as the 18th patient have since been placed in isolation. Individuals who were on different floors of the hospital will be monitored and placed in isolation or self-quarantine. In all, the 16th patient is believed to have come into contact with 306 people since Jan. 19, when she returned to Korea from Thailand, before being placed in isolation.

As the virus continues to spread, the government and the ruling Democratic Party agreed to use 3.4 trillion won ($2.8 billion) of the reserve budget for coronavirus response measures. According to the ruling party, the funds will be used for quarantine and prevention measures, and to support industries affected by the outbreak.

The issue of expanding entry restrictions to a wider area of China was not discussed at the meeting despite rising calls from the public and experts to expand the measure. Korea rolled out measures to restrict entry to foreigners who have visited Hubei Province from midnight Monday.

In addition, individuals of all nationalities arriving from China are required to go through a separate quarantine process upon arriving in Korea.

Although the ruling party said the situation needs to be monitored before expanding the measures, applying such measures to other areas of China and other countries may be a possibility.

“Necessary measures will be taken after closely looking at (the situation) in Hubei province and surrounding areas,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said at the meeting.

Chung hinted that the government could subject people arriving from other countries to additional immigration procedures, saying such measures could be introduced if necessary.

By Choi He-suk (