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.”


Sweden should have done more to combat coronavirus: health chief

Updated 20 min 5 sec ago

Sweden should have done more to combat coronavirus: health chief

  • Nearly 4,500 Swedes have died in the outbreak
  • Sweden has relied more on voluntary measures, social distancing and common-sense hygiene advice to stem the outbreak

STOCKHOLM: Sweden should have done more to combat the coronavirus and prevent a much higher national COVID-19 death rate than in neighboring countries, the man behind the Public Health Agency’s pandemic strategy said on Wednesday.
Nearly 4,500 Swedes have died in the outbreak, a higher mortality rate than in Denmark, Norway and Finland, and criticism has been growing over the government’s decision not to impose lockdown measures as strictly as elsewhere in Europe.
Anders Tegnell, the chief epidemiologist at the Public Health Agency, said that in hindsight Sweden should have done more.
“If we were to run into the same disease, knowing exactly what we know about it today, I think we would end up doing something in between what Sweden did and what the rest of the world has done,” Tegnell told Swedish radio.
“Yes, I think we could have done better in what we did in Sweden, clearly.”
While most of Europe, including Norway, Denmark and Finland, closed schools, shops and businesses, bringing much of society to a halt, Sweden has relied more on voluntary measures, social distancing and common-sense hygiene advice to stem the outbreak.
It shut care homes to visitors in late March, but around half of the deaths in the country have been among elderly people living in care facilities.
Tegnell said it was hard to know which measures taken elsewhere might have been the most effective in Sweden.
“Maybe we will find this out now that people have started removing measures, one at a time,” he said. “And then maybe we will get some kind of information on what, in addition to what we did, we could do without adopting a total lockdown.”
Earlier this week, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said the government would launch an enquiry into the handling of the pandemic.