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76 new coronavirus cases reported in S. Korea, 3 in 10 ‘imported’

1 in 4 new coronavirus cases reported Tuesday came from abroad

Nearly 3 in 10 new cases of the coronavirus reported in South Korea on Tuesday involved travelers arriving in Korea from abroad, as the government is tightening quarantine efforts to counter the growing number of imported infections. 

Korea reported 76 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, bringing total infections to 9,037, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The death toll stands at 124.

Of the new cases, 22 cases, or 29 percent, involved travelers arriving in Korea from abroad -- 18 from Europe and four from the US. Among them, 20 cases were identified during airport quarantine screening measures. By nationality, 20 are Korean and the remaining two are foreign nationals.

The government on Sunday began to test all incoming travelers from Europe -- Korean citizens and foreign nationals alike -- for COVID-19 upon their arrival.

Some 1,444 people who arrived here from Europe on Sunday were tested for the virus. Among them, 19 people tested positive and were transferred to nearby hospitals as of 9 a.m. Tuesday, according to health authorities. Among those, 11 patients had symptoms and eight did not.

Some 1,203 people arrived in Korea from Europe on Monday, with 101 of them having shown symptoms. The remaining 1,102 showed no symptoms. They were still waiting for test results as of Tuesday afternoon.

Calls are growing for expanding the quarantine measures on arrivals from the US, as the country has seen an explosive increase in new infections. For now, the government is only testing those who appear symptomatic among travelers from the US.

This week, the country saw 36 cases coming from abroad, with 66.7 percent of them being from Europe. The rest involved travelers from America.

The authorities said they are closely watching the situation.

Starting Tuesday, Korean citizens who arrive from Europe and show no symptoms of the infection at the airport will be required to self-isolate at home instead of being tested at temporary facilities. They will have to be tested for the virus at a community health clinic in their own neighborhood within three days.

The move comes in a bid to better allocate resources to contain imported infections amid a surge in the number of those showing symptoms among incoming travelers from Europe.

Foreign travelers will still be taken to designated facilities -- whether or not they are symptomatic -- for virus testing.

Currently, about 90 percent of those arriving from Europe are Korean citizens, according to health authorities.

Yoon Tae-ho, an official from the Ministry of Health and Welfare, reiterated at a briefing on Tuesday that free testing for the virus and medical treatment for those arriving from Europe -- for both citizens and foreign nationals -- are for the sake of preventing “greater damage.”

The testing and medical treatment expenses are covered by the state budget.

Despite the country seeing fewer than 100 new cases for a third consecutive day, Yoon called on the public to stick to tougher “social distancing.”

“The number of daily new cases is not that significant,” Yoon said.

Korea began implementing stricter rules on social distancing Sunday, restricting religious gatherings, indoor sports facilities and entertainment venues such as night clubs.

Of the new cases reported Tuesday, 31 were confirmed in Daegu, the city at the center of the coronavirus outbreak here, with 15 in Gyeonggi Province, four in Seoul, two in Busan and one each in Incheon, North Gyeongsang Province, South Gyeongsang Province and North Chungcheong Province. The cases in Daegu represent 71.3 percent of the country’s total.  

In Seoul, two more cases were reported from a call center in southwestern Seoul, bringing the total number of infections to 158 there. Among them, 94 were working on the same floor.

In Gyeonggi Province, eight more people tested positive for the virus from a nursing home in the city of Gunpo. A total of 14 people were confirmed to be infected from the facility.

The death toll rose by 13 to 124, with the overall fatality rate standing at 1.33 percent, according to the KCDC. The death rate is 6.25 percent for those in their 70s and 12.97 percent for those in their 80s.

A total of 62 people remained in critical condition, according to the data.

Some 3,507 people were discharged from quarantine, up 341 from the previous day. So far, a total of 348,582 people have been tested for the virus, with 324,105 testing negative. Some 15,440 people are awaiting test results.
By Ock Hyun-ju (