|Korean evacuees from Italy get on a bus at the Incheon International Airport, Thursday, heading to a quarantine facility located in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul|
By Kim Se-jeong
Prime Minister Chung Sei-kyun said Thursday it was too early to ease the nationwide campaign to encourage "strict" social distancing as coronavirus infections continue to rise here at home and exponentially abroad. Chung hinted that the government will continue to promote the campaign well into April.
"Given the fast spread of the virus outside Korea and the fact that many Koreans are getting infected overseas, easing social distancing could trigger a faster, secondary spread of the virus," Chung said during an emergency meeting in Seoul.
The campaign was set to end April 5 but new guidelines and an extension are expected to be announced Sunday.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 89 new infections Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases here to 9,976. Around the world, the number of cases has exceeded 930,000, and the World Health Organization said the figure will soon surpass 1 million, with 50,000 fatalities.
Despite warnings against outings and gatherings, more people in Korea are becoming increasingly frustrated with social distancing and heading out of their homes.
According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government, almost 1 million visited a park on Yeouido famous for cherry blossom trees last weekend.
The latest confirmed cases involved two residents of Cherwon, Gangwon Province, who contracted the virus in a public sauna. The KCDC said it was trying to identify 20 customers who used the facility at the same time as the confirmed patients.
The number of infections from overseas is also increasing ― of the 9,976 total cases here, 601 were contracted outside the country, according to the KCDC.
Stricter quarantine rules are in place, but apparently not all people are complying with them. According to local media outlets, the number of new arrivals at Incheon International Airport is too many for the quarantine authorities there to control. They cited the KCDC as reporting that an average of 7,000 passengers have been arriving at the airport daily recently.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government announced Thursday that it would bring all residents of the capital from the airport to a separate testing center in Jamsil. Mayor Park Won-soon said the measure was to ensure that those who contracted the virus overseas were quickly identified.
On Thursday, a chartered plane carrying more than 200 Korean evacuees from Italy arrived at Incheon, and after virus screening at the airport, they were taken to a quarantine facility outside Seoul. The previous day, another plane carried 309 Korean evacuees from Italy, and among them, one tested positive for COVID-19 and was isolated for treatment.
Also on Thursday, Korea saw the first death of a medical doctor from the coronavirus.
According to Kyungpook University Medical Center in Daegu, the internal medicine specialist was infected by one of his patients and admitted to the center March 19. In Daegu, 121 medical service providers have been infected with the virus, and the KCDC said previously that two are in critical condition.