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New virus cases tumble on fall in imported cases, local infections


South Korea's new coronavirus cases dropped to under 60 on Sunday, a day after the country recorded its highest figure in nearly four months due to a surge in infections among people arriving from abroad.

The country added 58 new cases, including 46 cases from abroad, bringing the total to 14,150, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

The number of new infections was down sharply compared to 113 the previous day, but health authorities are on alert over a possible spike in both local and imported cases. It marked the first time since April 1 for the country to report more than 100 cases. South Korea reported its first case on Jan. 20.

After falling below 30 for the first time in more than three weeks on Monday, the country's new COVID-19 cases gradually increased throughout the week on locally transmitted cases from a nursing home, churches and a front-line military base.

Imported cases, however, also have increased by double-digit daily figures for 30 consecutive days.

The sharp fall was attributed to a sharp drop in the number of imported cases, the KCDC said.

On Saturday, South Korea reported 86 cases mostly from its workers returning home from Iraq and Russian sailors.

Some 300 South Korean workers returned home aboard two military flights from the Middle Eastern country on Friday, with around 90 of them showing virus symptoms.

Some 30 sailors on a Russia-flagged fishing vessel docked in the southeastern city of Busan were also confirmed to have been infected with the new coronavirus.

Of the newly confirmed imported cases, 38 were from Iraq, followed by four from the United States, two from Russia and each one from India and Hong Kong, according to the KCDC. All of the 38 new patients from Iraq were South Korean workers, which increased the total number of related cases to 74.

Health authorities earlier said 211 people have tested negative for the virus so far, although they will continue to be monitored over a two-week quarantine period.

Local infections also decreased to 12 from 27 the previous day, the KCDC said. Of the latest cases, 10 were from the capital city of Seoul and its surrounding Gyeonggi Province.

The southeastern port city of Busan and Gwangju in the southwestern part of the country also reported one infection each.

The number of domestic infections fell to around 10 after hovering around 20 to 30 for the past five days.

In the Seoul metropolitan area, new additional cases were reported mainly from the government office building, churches and nursing homes.

A nursing home in western Seoul reported one new COVID-19 case on Sunday, increasing the total number of related cases to 25.

Also, one new case was reported at a business office in southern Seoul, to bring the total number of linked cases to 37.

The coronavirus test was carried out for a total of 57 people working at the government office building in downtown Seoul, which reported its first case on Friday. Of them, 50 tested negative while the remaining seven were awaiting test results.

In Busan, one more case tied to repair workers who boarded the Russian ship was reported, raising the total number of related cases to nine. Of them, eight were South Korean nationals.

Health officials were conducting an extensive investigation into the nine confirmed cases.

There were no additional deaths, keeping the total death toll at 298.

The total number of people released from quarantine after full recoveries came to 12,890, up 24 from the previous day.

South Korea has carried out 1,522,926 tests since Jan. 3.

In light of the recent spike in new infections among foreigners arriving from abroad, the government decided to revise the law to require foreign coronavirus patients to cover the costs of their treatment.

Under the current law, in-hospital care and treatment costs for confirmed patients are covered by the government regardless of nationality. The health ministry will be in charge of revising related regulations.

The government intends to apply the envisioned new rule initially only to those caught violating quarantine rules. The government will review expanding the scope depending on the virus situation.

The government will also review possible provision of financial support to overseas South Korean nationals who become infected with COVID-19 and need treatment.

The government's latest decision came one day after South Korea's new virus cases surged to an almost four-month high of 113, of which 34 were reported from sailors on a Russia-flagged fishing vessel docked in the southeastern port city of Busan. Two more Russians were confirmed with the virus Sunday. (Yonhap)