South Korea’s new coronavirus cases fall to single digits

South Korea had Asia’s largest number of infections outside China earlier this year.

South Korean soldiers in protective gear sanitize a shopping street in Seoul
South Korean soldiers in protective gear sanitise a shopping street in Seoul on March 4, 2020 [File: Heo Ran/Reuters]

South Korea has reported eight new coronavirus cases, marking the first time new infections fell to single digits since the country’s outbreak worsened in mid-February.

President Moon Jae-in said on Sunday South Korea’s progress gave hope that the coronavirus outbreak is “surmountable” in other parts of the world. Earlier this year, South Korea had Asia’s largest number of infections outside China, but it has since been overtaken by other countries.

“The government will prepare for new daily lives and the new world order ‘post-COVID’ with the unified power of the citizens,” Moon said. COVID-19 is the name of the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.

Of the new cases, five were imported from overseas, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said on Sunday. 

It was the first time since February 18 that South Korea reported a single-digit daily rise. The figure brings its total infections to 10,661. The death toll rose to 234.

South Korea reported its first case on January 20, but the number of daily new cases stayed in the single digits through mid-February. Soon afterwards, the number of infections skyrocketed as the virus spread rapidly through a church in the southeastern city of Daegu.

The number of infections peaked on February 29, with 909 cases reported. 

But Seoul has largely managed to bring the outbreak under control through social distancing measures and a programme of mass testing and meticulous contact tracing.

Restrictions relaxed

On Sunday, South Korea extended its social distancing policy for another 16 days but offered some relief for churches and sporting fixtures.

The slightly relaxed guidelines mean high-risk facilities like churches will no longer have to close, while sport matches such as football can resume without an audience.

“It is safest to maintain the intensive social distancing, but it isn’t easy realistically. We need to find a middle ground,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a televised meeting of government officials.

“If we can maintain a stable management at the current level, we will shift to ‘routine social distancing’ from May 6,” Chung said.

The Yonhap news agency reported on Saturday that the government was likely to prolong the guidelines, taking “into account the possibility that outdoor activity could increase as the country will mark Buddha’s birthday on April 30, Labour Day on May 1 and Children’s Day on May 5”.

Chung on Saturday urged South Koreans to minimise outdoor activities and adhere to social distancing rules during the upcoming holidays.

“I am worried that the social distancing campaign that we’ve carried out very well could be jeopardised later this month,” he said.

“I earnestly ask you to refrain from outdoor activities during holidays for the safety of the community. If you are planning a trip, please reconsider that.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies