With South Korea set to officially end stringent social distancing Wednesday, health authorities on Tuesday expressed both caution and confidence on the country’s fight against COVID-19.
Kwon Joon-wook, deputy director at the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said officials were on edge over the possibility that the pathogen is spreading silently somewhere undetected.
But even if that turns out to be true, authorities are prepared more than ever before to handle it, he stressed.
“If a second wave of infections strikes, it will be different from the one we experienced in late February,” he said at a daily briefing on the virus situation Tuesday. “We are making all out efforts in preparation (of a potential second wave).”
With new infections remaining flat, the country transitions to ‘routine distancing’ Wednesday, but officials stressed it does not mean a return to life before coronavirus.
Health Minister Park Neung-hoo reiterated the importance of individuals to do their part to avoid catching and spreading the virus, while carrying on with their daily life, visiting places and meeting people.
On Tuesday, Korea reported zero local infections for two days in a row, while there were three imported cases, bringing the number of infections to 1,804, according to the KCDC.
Two of the three new patients were identified at airport checkpoints and one was a patient who had been in self-isolation in Incheon upon returning from overseas.
The death toll rose by two to 254, the KCDC said.
Amid a steady drop in COVID-19 cases, health authorities have agreed to reduce the number of hospitals assigned to treat infectious diseases.
In the third such downsizing, seven hospitals equipped with a combined 1,725 hospital beds, previously designated to treat novel coronavirus patients, will resume normal operations, according to the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters.
Health authorities said they will make sure the hospitals will be able to admit virus patients in case of a spike in infections.
The number of hospital beds allotted for virus patients stood at 3,808, of which 2,924 were empty as of Tuesday.
“Due to COVID-19 it has been difficult for children to go to school, to play at playgrounds and to travel. I’d like to say thank you to children for cooperating in virus prevention, setting aside your urge to play outdoors without face masks,” Health Minister Park said. Tuesday was the Children’s Day.
Meanwhile, the number of people released from isolation after making a recovery reached 9,283, up 66 from a day earlier.
A total 1,267 confirmed COVID-19 patients were in treatment as of Tuesday.
By Kim Bo-gyung (email@example.com