(ATTN: COMBINES with evacuees release story; UPDATES with minor edits in lead, paras 2, 8-9, 11-12, 15-19; CHANGES photos) -- South Korea reported no additional novel coronavirus case for the fourth day in a row with the total number of cases unchanged at 28, as two more people have been released from quarantine, public health authorities said Saturday.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said nine patients have so far made full recoveries after being infected with the COVID-19 virus.
The country has tested a total of 7,519 people for the virus since Jan. 3, with 6,853 turning up negative as of early Saturday, with another 638 undergoing tests for possible infection, the KCDC said.
It said that 1,785 people who have come into contact with infected people are being monitored carefully, with 442 placed in quarantine.
The KCDC said patients number seven and 22 have been released from quarantine after testing negative twice in detailed screening.
The seventh patient is a 28-year-old man who visited Wuhan, central China, the epicenter of the current outbreak, and was confirmed to have been infected on Jan. 30. The 22nd patient is a 46-year-old man who tested positive on Feb. 6.
"The seventh patient is expected to leave the hospital today, although the 22nd patient may remain for a while longer," the health agency said.
The KCDC then said that the remaining 19 patients currently being treated for the virus at hospitals are all in stable condition, with only one person on a respirator for pneumonia. Doctors have said more patients could be discharged from hospitals soon, after undergoing final screenings to make certain they are healthy and pose no health risks to others.
In particular, public health officials said that the 28th patient, a 30-year-old Chinese woman, who is an acquaintance of the country's third confirmed case, has tested negative for the virus twice in the last 24 hours. She had shown no signs of being ill from the outset, making her a candidate for early release.
In regard to ongoing efforts by South Korea to beef up its efforts to stem the spread of the virus, the KCDC said it in considering a move to incorporate the COVID-19 screening with its overall influenza checks so as to prevent infections from slipping past its quarantine regime.
South Korea, like other countries, keeps watch for influenza outbreaks with some 200 clinics around the country reporting on cases to the government with samples taken being tested so alerts can be issued if necessary.
There have been concerns that the COVID-19, which is highly infectious, may turn into a seasonal illness like the flu that could pose challenges for authorities.
The move comes as Seoul, starting on Wednesday, enforced stricter quarantine screening for 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. They must also download a mobile application to report their health status every day.
Earlier in the day, South Korea released the first group of 366 South Koreans evacuated from Wuhan, China, who have been released after two weeks of quarantine.
The evacuees who arrived in the country on Jan. 31 have all tested negative in detailed tests, the KCDC said.
Of the total, 193 evacuees had been kept in isolation in Asan, 90 kilometers south of Seoul, and 173 stayed in Jincheon, 91 kilometers southeast of the capital. All were discouraged from meeting others in the facilities for fear of person-to-person transmission with no outside visitors allowed.
The country said that it plans to release the second batch of people who were airlifted out of Wuhan on Feb. 1 on Sunday, after all 333 were screened for viral infection.
South Korea's Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun was on hand at Jincheon to wish those being released the best for the future and to thank residents of the city for welcoming the visitors into their midst despite health concerns for the community.