South Korea tightens border checks as domestic transmission of coronavirus abates

Seoul has already imposed strict border checks on visitors from China, Italy and Iran. (AFP)
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Updated 17 March 2020

South Korea tightens border checks as domestic transmission of coronavirus abates

  • The stricter checks for all arrivals will start on Thursday
  • Seoul has already imposed strict border checks on visitors from China, Italy and Iran

SEOUL: South Korea said on Tuesday it plans to tighten border checks for all arrivals from overseas to prevent new cases of coronavirus coming into the country at a time when domestically transmitted infections are subsiding.
The stricter checks for all arrivals will start on Thursday and come as China also stepped up monitoring of foreign travelers, in the latest sign of the pandemic’s shifting center of gravity from Asia to Europe.
“We’ve assessed that there’s a need for universal special entry procedures for all arrivals, given rapid increases in new cases not only in Europe but also in the United States and Asia in the wake of the pandemic,” Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told a briefing.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 84 new coronavirus cases as of Tuesday. It was the third day in a row that the county has reported fewer than 100 new infections, raising hopes that Asia’s largest outbreak outside China may be easing.
The new numbers are well below a Feb. 29 peak of 909, and bring the country’s total infections to 8,320, the KCDC said. The death toll rose by two to 81.
There are 55 cases involving infected travelers, including eight foreign nationals, up from 44 recorded on Sunday. The other 47 are South Koreans, 27 of whom came from Europe, as well as 16 from China and another 12 from other Asian countries, KCDC deputy director Kwon Jun-wook said.
Seoul has already imposed strict border checks on visitors from China, Italy and Iran, requiring them to sign up by a smartphone application to track whether they have any symptoms such as fever.
Asked whether the government was considering closing borders, Kwon said the current efforts make a “very rational and reasonable policy for the time being.”
“It is much more important to stick to our fundamental efforts to find, quarantine and treat patients and examining links of infections,” he told reporters.
President Moon Jae-in has said he was increasingly confident South Korea would overcome the virus as the rate of new cases continued to drop.
Another 264 patients were released on Tuesday from hospitals where they had been isolated for treatment, bringing the total to 1,401, the KCDC said. South Korea reported more recoveries than new infections on Friday for the first time since its outbreak emerged in January.
Testing and treatment of patients is nearing completion in the hardest-hit city of Daegu, home to a fringe Christian church that was at the center of the outbreak in South Korea.
But authorities renewed warnings against clusters that continue to emerge, especially in the greater Seoul area.
The education ministry on Tuesday postponed the beginning of all schools’ new semester by another two weeks to April 6, citing concerns about infections in smaller clusters.
At least 134 cases have been linked to a Seoul-based call center whose 800-strong workforce is being tested or in quarantine.
In Seongnam, south of Seoul, 47 members of a Protestant church have tested positive, including the pastor, who attended services twice early this month despite government calls to cancel mass gatherings.
The vice health minister said people at the church had even rinsed their mouths using the same salt water sprayer in an ill-advised effort to disinfect themselves.
“That is an example of how misinformation could raise the risks of infection,” he said.
“Once again, we’re requesting the citizens to refrain from attending gatherings in enclosed space as much as possible.”

New record number of COVID-19 cases overshadows US Independence Day festivities

Updated 14 min 28 sec ago

New record number of COVID-19 cases overshadows US Independence Day festivities

  • More than 57,000 infections recorded in 24 hours; COVID-19 has claimed 130,000 lives in the US
  • Trump dismisses deluge of new cases as "great news", says "our testing is so massive and so good"
WASHINGTON: Another record number of coronavirus cases overshadowed the start of America’s Independence Day weekend Friday as the surge in infections prompted Britain to blacklist travelers from the US, intensifying its isolation.

With beaches closed from coast to coast and officials urging Americans to stay home, the somber mood heading into what is usually a weekend of barbecues and sunshine underscored the struggle to extinguish COVID-19 at the epicenter of the global pandemic.

“It is an unbelievable trajectory,” said Faisal Masud, director of critical care at Houston Methodist Hospital in Texas, which officials say is dangerously close to being overwhelmed.

Touching almost every country on Earth since it emerged in China late last year, the coronavirus has infected at least 10.9 million and killed 522,000 globally, shattering previously buoyant economies and bringing public life to a standstill.

But while Europe and much of Asia have largely managed to bring the virus under control — so much so that England was preparing to reopen pubs, restaurants and cinemas — in the US it has claimed nearly 130,000 lives amid a sharp resurgence of cases which top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said “puts the entire country at risk.”

The world’s largest economy broke its record for new cases for the third day in a row Friday, with more than 57,000 infections in 24 hours. It’s expected to record its three millionth infection next week, with cases rising the south and west particularly.

US President Donald Trump — at Mount Rushmore for a fireworks celebration with thousands of attendees in close quarters and masks not required — has so far dismissed the deluge of new cases.

In a tweet late Thursday he said the rise was because “our testing is so massive and so good, far bigger and better than any other country,” calling that “great news.”

He added: “Even better news is that death, and the death rate, is DOWN.”

But his predecessor Barack Obama called for Americans to be “safe and smart.”

“It’s going to take all of us to beat this virus. So wear a mask. Wash your hands. And listen to the experts, not the folks trying to divide us,” he tweeted Friday.

The World Health Organization called on countries hit by serious outbreaks to “wake up” to the realities.

“People need to wake up. The data is not lying,” WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan told journalists in Geneva.

“It is never too late in an epidemic to take control.”

At least 14 states are seeing their weekly averages hit record highs heading into the holiday weekend, the Washington Post reported.

In Florida, where new cases are hovering at around 10,000 daily, Miami’s usually-crowded South Pointe Beach was closed Friday save for patrolling police and a wandering cat.

Beaches in Los Angeles will also be closed over the weekend, and Major League Baseball officially canceled its 2020 All-Star Game on Friday, the first time since World War II that the mid-season showcase — which had been set for July 14 — has been scrapped.

The US closures stand in stark contrast to Britain and Europe, once the epicenter of the virus but now restarting businesses and lifting travel restrictions, trying salvage the summer tourist season.

Pubs in England reopen on Saturday for the first time since late March — as restaurants, cinemas, galleries, museums and hotels also prepare to welcome back customers.

Travelers arriving into England from more than 50 nations — but not the US or mainland China — will from July 10 no longer be required to undergo 14 days of self-isolation.

The decision follows the European Union, which earlier this week left the US, Brazil and Russia off its final list of nations safe enough to allow their residents to enter its borders.

The European Union meanwhile authorized the use of the anti-viral drug remdesivir for COVID-19 — the first treatment approved to deal with the disease — although the United States has bought most of the global stock.

Europe is also beginning a reckoning on its virus response. French prosecutors said they were launching an inquiry into former prime minister Edouard Philippe’s handling of the virus crisis, following his resignation Friday.

But despite optimism the economic fallout is still unfolding: Air France said Friday it planned to eliminate 7,580 jobs at the airline and its regional unit Hop! by the end of 2022 because of the coronavirus crisis.

Cases have been skyrocketing across Latin America.

The region now has the second most cases in the world with 2.73 million, ahead of Europe on 2.71 million but behind North America.

Brazil, the region’s largest economy, has 1.5 million confirmed cases and 63,000 deaths, second only to the United States.

Nevertheless, popular tourist city Rio de Janeiro authorized bars, restaurants and cafes to reopen at 50 percent capacity, while President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday watered down a law requiring the wearing of face masks in public places.

Cases also continue to surge in the Middle East, where worst-hit Saudi Arabia passed 200,000 infections. Countries across Africa meanwhile forged ahead with plans to reopen, despite steadily rising cases.

In Asia, however, swift lockdowns have largely made progress — including in Beijing, which said Friday it was lifting most travel restrictions after successfully containing a new outbreak.

China also vowed to gradually phase out the slaughter and sale of live poultry at food markets.

The virus is believed to have emerged at a market that sold live animals in the central city of Wuhan late last year.