(ATTN: UPDATES with minor edits in paras 8, 12, 17-19; CHANGES top photo)
SEOUL, Feb. 14 (Yonhap) -- No new cases of the novel coronavirus were reported in South Korea for the third consecutive day on Friday, but health authorities remained vigilant to monitor how the outbreak is unfolding in two neighboring Asian countries.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said the number of confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus remains unchanged at 28, with seven of them having been released from hospitals after making full recoveries.
Another 21 patients currently being treated for the virus at hospitals are in stable condition, the health agency said. Only one of them is receiving oxygen therapy for pneumonia but is not in critical condition, it added.
The KCDC said the number of people who have tested negative for the virus reached 6,679 as of late Friday, sharply up from 6,134 earlier in the day. Another 535 are undergoing tests for possible infection.
Jeong Eun-kyeong, chief of the KCDC, said in a regular briefing that the authorities will closely monitor the situation as the virus is still spreading in China, and there are confirmed cases in Japan that had no epidemiological correlations.
China's Hubei province -- the capital of which is Wuhan, where the outbreak started in December -- announced nearly 5,000 new cases for COVID-19 in just over the previous 24 hours. Japan reported its first death, joining the Philippines and Hong Kong as the only countries outside of China where a person has died from the coronavirus.
The authorities further said it is premature to judge whether a global epidemic is peaking, as the number of cases in mainland China spiked overnight.
"New cases in China increased after Hubei province revised its method for counting infections," said Kim Gang-lip, deputy head of the central disaster headquarters. The official claimed that while South Korea seems to be managing the virus, there are still many risks that need to be monitored closely.
Health authorities also said a fine of up to 3 million won (US$2,530) can be levied on those who have clearly violated protocols regarding self-quarantine, Kim said.
The comments came after reports that the country's 15th confirmed COVID-19 patient dined with a family member three days after he was diagnosed with the virus. The relative later became the 20th confirmed case.
Those who are under self-isolation measures are required to eat by themselves and must stay in isolation as much as possible, the KCDC said.
All South Koreans who are being held in two quarantine facilities south of Seoul after being evacuated from Wuhan on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 will be released from isolation this weekend as scheduled, although two of the 701 people are still being treated after being infected.
They all tested negative for the virus two consecutive times after staying in temporary accommodations for 14 days, the disease's known incubation period, the KCDC said.
Meanwhile, a one-year-old evacuee tested negative for the virus after showing a very mild fever, according to the agency. The infant is among the 147 people who were evacuated to South Korea on the third chartered flight.
South Korea has been beefing up its efforts 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.
The government said 5,427 people were processed by separate counters on the first day, with 4,936 being checked on Thursday.
A total of 3,987 people from the regions downloaded a mobile self-diagnosis application on the first day alone so they can report their health status in real time to authorities. Health officials said others who have not downloaded the app will personally be contacted by local authorities to check on their health status.
The app requires all users to input whether or not they have a fever, cough or soar throat every day for up to two weeks.