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South Korea reaches 10,000 COVID-19 cases, quarantines foreign arrivals

South Korea reaches 10,000 COVID-19 cases, quarantines foreign arrivals
The Seoul metropolitan government began operating a walk-through COVID-19 screening clinic for residents arriving from abroad on Friday, in an effort to cut down on imported cases of the disease. Photo courtesy of Seoul Metropolitan Government

SEOUL, April 3 (UPI) -- South Korea crossed the threshold of 10,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, health officials reported Friday, as the country turns its focus toward combating imported cases of the disease.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 86 new patients on Friday, bringing the country's total to 10,062. South Korea has averaged around 100 new cases per day for roughly three weeks, leveling out the spread of the disease after a dramatic spike that started in mid-February in the southeastern city of Daegu.

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However, concern is increasing over the number of cases being brought in from overseas travelers, primarily Korean nationals returning from abroad, and officials put stricter measures into action this week.

"Globally, we have seen a surge in the outbreak of infections and the government has put in place stronger infectious disease control measures for all who are arriving to South Korea," KDC director Jung Eun-kyeong said at a press briefing Friday.

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Thirty-eight of the new patients reported Friday were arrivals from overseas, the KCDC said, bringing the total of imported cases to 647. Of these, 92 percent are Korean nationals.

On Wednesday, the government began imposing an automatic 14-day quarantine for all inbound travelers to South Korea. Those with a local residence are allowed to self-isolate at home, while other arrivals are required to stay in a government-designated facility at their own expense.

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There are nine such quarantine facilities, senior KCDC official Yoon Tae-ho said, with plans in place to add more.

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All arrivals who are in isolation are required to install an app that allows authorities to monitor them in real time.

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A health worker with the Israeli national emergency service, Magen David Adam, wears protective gear while taking swabs to test for COVID-19 at a drive-through testing center in East Jerusalem on August 26. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

On Friday, the Ministry of Justice announced that it had implemented an order restricting the scope of activities for foreign arrivals, the first time such a move has been made. Those who fail to comply with instructions for quarantine or other public health guidelines can face a prison term of up to three years or a fine of up to about $16,000.

The Seoul city government also announced the opening of a walk-through screening clinic dedicated to residents arriving from abroad on Friday. The facility, located in a stadium parking lot, is capable of testing around 1,000 patients a day, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said.

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In addition to imported cases, health authorities continued to express concern about cluster infections at locations such as churches and hospitals in the Seoul metropolitan area, where half of the country's 51 million residents live.

Officials have asked citizens to continue an enhanced social distancing campaign, while the Seoul city government said it was planning to take legal action against a conservative Christian church whose members violated an order to refrain from mass gatherings.

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United States Forces Korea, the military command for the roughly 28,500 American troops stationed on the Korean Peninsula, announced that two American citizens working as contractors tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the total number of infections among its population to 17.

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