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(4th LD) New virus cases hover around 50 for 3rd day amid strict social distancing

19:41 April 08, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with release of an 84-day-old baby from hospital in paras 5-6)

SEOUL, April 8 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's new coronavirus cases hovered around 50 for the third straight day Wednesday, but the nation marked the grim milestone of 200 virus deaths.

Health authorities renewed calls for people to maintain social distancing to curb the spread of the virus, as cluster infections at churches and hospitals, as well as new cases coming from overseas, are still rising steadily.

The 53 new cases, detected Tuesday and up from 47 new cases a day ago, brought the nation's total number of infections to 10,384, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Nurses in full protective suits line up to enter a treatment ward for novel coronavirus patients at Dongsan Hospital in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on April 7, 2020. (Yonhap)

The nation's death toll from the coronavirus, which emerged in China late last year, rose by eight to 200. About 80 people recovered from the virus Tuesday, raising the total number of cured people to 6,776.

On Wednesday, an 84-day-old baby was released from a hospital in the southeastern city of Gyeongju after making a full recovery, along with his parents, 38 days after being diagnosed with the illness.

The baby boy was the youngest COVID-19 patient in South Korea and probably contracted the virus from his parents.

Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip described this week's daily number of new infections as a "positive" sign, but warned that lax attitudes toward social distancing could put the nation at risk of cluster infections.

"Social distancing is the only vaccine," Kim told reporters.

Stricter containment measures will be put in place at "high-risk" facilities, such as hospitals, nursing homes and cram schools, Kim said.

KCDC Deputy Director Kwon Joon-wook said authorities began an epidemiological investigation into two female bar employees in Seoul's Gangnam district after they tested positive.

Those who lie or hide information in an epidemiological investigation will face a fine of up to 20 million won (US$16,428) or a jail term of two years or less, Kwon said.

A day after the two bar employees tested positive, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said the capital city government has ordered night clubs, karaoke lounges and other entertainment venues to shut down until April 19.

Park said 118 of the bar's employees are placed under self-isolation and 18 of them have tested negative so far.

Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, the nation's two worst-affected regions, reported nine and three new cases, respectively, the KCDC said. The total number of cases reported in Daegu and the surrounding North Gyeongsang Province reached 6,803 and 1,320, respectively.

Other major provinces and cities also reported infections, with Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province adding 11 and six new cases, respectively.

The country also detected 14 new cases coming from overseas at border checkpoints, raising the country's total number of imported cases to 832.

Seeking to reduce the daily number of new infections to below 50, South Korea has extended strict guidelines on social distancing by two weeks to April 19. South Korea has tested 486,003 people so far.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said South Korea will temporarily halt visa-free entry and visa waiver programs with countries imposing entry bans on Koreans, as it tries to stem imported cases of the new coronavirus.

Seoul Garden Hotel in Seoul lights up its empty rooms in the shape of a heart to cheer on pedestrians coping with social distancing amid efforts to curb the COVID-19 pandemic on April 7, 2020. (Yonhap)

kdh@yna.co.kr
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