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South Korea reports fewest new coronavirus cases since February

New coronavirus cases fell to their lowest level since February in South Korea on Thursday. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
New coronavirus cases fell to their lowest level since February in South Korea on Thursday. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI | License Photo

SEOUL, April 9 (UPI) -- South Korea reported 39 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, its lowest number of new infections since late February.

The new cases brought the country's total infections to 10,423, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 39 infections marked the lowest single-day total since Feb. 20, when South Korea reported 53 cases at the beginning of an outbreak that centered around the southeastern city of Daegu.

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February's rapid spike in cases was tied to a 61-year-old woman who attended services in Daegu at a secretive religious sect, the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, while infected. New cases reached a peak of 909 on Feb. 29 and have declined since then as South Korea took an aggressive approach to testing for the coronavirus and tracing the contacts of confirmed patients.

Thursday was the fourth day in a row new cases hovered around 50 or below, but health officials continued to preach caution, focusing on the threat from imported cases, as well as cluster infections at public places, such as bars and clubs.

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"We are still facing many risk factors ahead," Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said at a press briefing on Thursday. "We have risk factors surrounding multi-use facilities, including private academies and nightlife establishments. Health officials need to minimize the spread and we need to control the infections going forward."

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Seventeen patients over the past week have been tied to a wine bar in the city of Pyeongtaek, located 40 miles south of Seoul.

Another four cases have been traced to a pub in Seoul, while a pair of infections were confirmed this week at a late-night club popular with celebrities in the posh Seoul neighborhood of Gangnam. A hostess at the venue with the virus is believed to have been in contact with K-pop star Yoon Hak of the group Supernova, who tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

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In response, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon on Wednesday ordered all bars to be closed until April 19.

"The problem is that they have to be in close contact at these locations," Park said Wednesday. "It is virtually impossible to follow prevention guidelines."

Health officials are also maintaining vigilance around imported cases, which have accounted for nearly half of the new patients over the past two weeks. Of the 39 new patients reported Thursday, 23 were travelers who had recently been overseas, bringing the country's total of such cases to 861.

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Last week, South Korea began imposing an automatic 14-day quarantine for all inbound travelers to the country.

While South Korea continues its fight against the coronavirus, school was back in session on Thursday as online classes started for some high school and middle school students. Additional grades will start over the next two weeks in a staggered rollout of the online system. The new school year had been postponed since March 2.

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