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‘Coronavirus could return in winter’

South Korea confirms 13 new virus cases; social distancing rules eased on bars, gyms and other high-risk places


South Korea seems to have the novel coronavirus pretty much under control right now, reporting 13 new infections Monday. But a top official in the country’s virus fight said the pathogen could strike the country again in winter.

“We believe there is a possibility the virus could come and go for the long-term or a number of years,” Jeong Eun-kyeong, chief of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a daily briefing.

She said the virus is likely to reemerge in the winter season and “may cause a wave” as people tend to stay in close quarters at that time of year.

Korea confirmed 13 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Monday, showing a slight increase from the single-digit daily tally it reported a day earlier, health authorities said.

With the new patients -- seven from overseas and six domestic -- the country’s total number of COVID-19 cases rose to 10,674, while two more people died, putting the death toll at 236 as of Monday at 12:01 a.m., according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of people who have recovered and been discharged from isolation increased72 to 8,114.

Among the newly diagnosed patients, two were from Gyeonggi Province, two from Busan, one from Incheon and one from Daegu, among other places. The country’s capital, Seoul, had zero for the first time since early March, the KCDC said.

“We believe (the fact) that there were no confirmed cases in Seoul means the overall danger of transmission has decreased, largely due to municipalities’ efforts and virus testing,” said Jeong.

“We’d have to keep an eye on the trend for more than two weeks to see how long this figure lasts.”

The number of imported cases climbed to 1,006 and now accounts for 9.4 percent of confirmed patients, according to the KCDC.

Of the COVID-19 patients from overseas, 61 went on to transmit the virus to 157 people here.

“It has been three months since we saw our first confirmed (virus) patients. … The number of newly confirmed patients that surpassed 900 at one point has dropped sharply,” said Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyung during a daily coronavirus briefing Monday.

“Our experience of the past three months has given us confidence that we can win the fight against COVID-19. But it has also reminded us that the fight will not end easily given its nature to infiltrate shortcomings.”

An eased social distancing campaign that allows the resumption of services at the country’s four most frequently used facilities -- religious facilities, after-school private academies, bars and gyms -- provided they adhere to virus prevention guidelines is to take effect until May 5.

By Kim Bo-gyung (