(ATTN: REWRITES lead; UPDATES with more info throughout)
SEOUL, May 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korean health authorities said Monday they will lift quarantine measures for patients who retested positive for the new coronavirus, as they did not find any evidence that such cases pose the risk of infecting others.
Coronavirus relapse cases have been a headache for public health authorities here in their battle against the pandemic. So far, the country has reported 447 such cases, or 4.5 percent of the country's total caseload of 11,065.
The government said those who recover from the illness will be allowed to return to their routines starting Tuesday without the need to take additional virus tests or to be placed under quarantine for another two weeks.
Under reinforced guidelines on discharging COVID-19 patients, health authorities had recommended cured patients to self-quarantine for 14 days after being discharged from hospital amid concerns over virus infections.
"There have been no secondary infections from people who came in contact with the relapsed patients so far," Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health ministry official, said in a briefing. "We have not found evidence that those cases are contagious."
Local health experts said last month that traces of inactivated virus fragments appear to have been detected in such cases, refuting theories of reactivation or reinfection of the virus.
Of the 790 people who came in contact with 285 patients categorized as relapse cases, three were found to have been infected, but their infection route was not related to the relapse cases, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).
"They appear to have contracted the virus from others, but their infection was not known until contact tracing results came out," KCDC Director Jeong Eun-kyeong said at a separate briefing.
The agency added that no traces of the virus were found from respiratory samples from 108 people who retested after full recoveries.
The KCDC said they will not use the term "relapse," as cured virus patients who retested positive for the virus do not pose the risk of infecting others.
Health authorities are looking into whether such people are immune to the coronavirus and how long such immunity could last.