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(4th LD) S. Korea set to release more virus patients, no new cases reported

17:24 February 13, 2020

(ATTN: CHANGES headline; UPDATES figures in paras 2-3; ADDS more info in paras 11,17, 2nd photo)

SEOUL, Feb. 13 (Yonhap) -- South Korea reported no new novel coronavirus cases on Thursday, leaving the total unchanged at 28, and more patients are likely to be released soon following seven earlier discharges.

As of 4 p.m. Thursday, the number of people being checked for the COVID-19 virus under quarantine came to 562, down from 785 the previous day, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

South Korean health authorities disinfect streets to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in Seoul on Feb. 13, 2020. (Yonhap)

The country has tested 6,483 people for the new coronavirus since Jan. 3, with 5,921 testing negative.

The KCDC said 21 patients currently being treated for the virus at hospitals are in a stable condition. One of them is receiving oxygen therapy but is not in a severe condition, it added.

The KCDC said more patients could be discharged from hospital soon.

So far, South Korea has released seven coronavirus patients. The KCDC said the seven had no underlying diseases that could have affected their treatment. They stayed in hospital for an average of 13 days.

The KCDC said all 147 evacuees who arrived in Seoul from the Chinese city of Wuhan on Wednesday tested negative for the potentially fatal illness.

Among them, five evacuees -- three South Koreans and two Chinese nationals -- showed symptoms of the novel coronavirus upon their arrival and were transferred to a hospital, but they tested negative for the virus, health authorities said.

The evacuees, comprising South Korean nationals, their Chinese spouses and family members, are currently staying at a temporary shelter in Icheon, 80 kilometers southeast of Seoul, where they need to be monitored for 14 days, the virus' incubation period.

Jung Eun-kyeong, head of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), gives a briefing on domestic coronavirus infections at the KCDC headquarters in Cheongju, 137 kilometers south of Seoul, on Feb. 13, 2020. (Yonhap)

The KCDC said the country will double its supply of coronavirus test kits and will be able to test 10,000 people a day by the end of this month.

The KCDC added South Korea has so far spent more than 1 billion won (US$850,000) on diagnostic tests for the novel coronavirus.

South Korea also announced a protocol for coronavirus treatment as recommended by its clinical task force.

Under the proposed protocol, doctors can give the anti-HIV medication Kaletra twice a day to elderly patients and those who show severe symptoms of the coronavirus. South Korea's third patient was released from a hospital Wednesday after being administered with Kaletra.

The drug can be replaced with Chloroquine or Hydroxychloroquine, both used to treat malaria, according to the task force.

Despite there being no confirmed cases in the last two days, the KCDC said it is not right to say that the spread of the novel coronavirus has been slowing.

"There are still people who are coming from China and people who are showing symptoms of the virus," said Jung Eun-kyeong, chief of the KCDC. "There is still a possibility that we could see some coronavirus patients."

Globally, more than 60,000 people have been infected by the virus as of Thursday and over 1,300 have died, mostly in China's Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak. The number of infections surged after China decided to use a new method of diagnosis.

South Korea's health authorities disinfect seats at a gymnasium in Suwon, south of Seoul, to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus on Feb. 13, 2020. (Yonhap)

South Korea has been beefing up its effort to stem the spread of the virus. Starting Wednesday, strict quarantine screening has been enforced against entrants from Hong Kong and Macao, in addition to mainland China.

Passengers from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao are now required to use separate arrival counters at international airports across the country and must write a special quarantine report, filling out health questionnaires to check whether they have a fever or respiratory problems.

kdon@yna.co.kr
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