SEOUL, April 30 (UPI) -- South Korea passed a milestone on Thursday, reporting no locally transmitted infections of COVID-19 for the first time in more than 70 days. Health officials recorded just four new cases of the infectious disease, all of which came from international passengers and were detected at the airport.
The new patients brought South Korea's total number of COVID-19 cases to 10,765. The death toll rose by one to 247, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The last time South Korea reported zero local infections was on Feb. 15, just days ahead of a widespread outbreak that centered around a secretive religious sect in the southeastern city of Daegu.
"We are witnessing a decrease in community infection, which is very meaningful and for which we are very grateful," said Kwon Jun-wook, deputy director of the KCDC, at a briefing on Thursday afternoon.
South Korea was the first country after China to see widespread local transmission of the coronavirus after its February outbreak, but through early and prevalent testing and tracing, officials managed to dramatically flatten the curve of new infections without having to resort to the large-scale lockdowns seen in Europe and the United States.
As newly confirmed cases began dropping into the single digits, the government last week announced a new set of guidelines for what it calls "everyday life quarantine," which will allow the economy and society to open further.
Authorities have loosened restrictions on venues, such as places of worship and nightclubs, which have been allowed to start reopening under disinfection guidelines. Restaurants, bars and sidewalks in the capital city of Seoul have been growing increasingly crowded as the weather warms up and South Korea heads into a long holiday weekend.
The country also held national parliamentary elections two weeks ago, which saw high voter turnout under enhanced safety measures.
The KCDC's Kwon said on Thursday that there have been no cases reported from the election, despite the heavy participation.
"Fifteen days have passed since we had the nationwide general elections, where 29 million voters went outside to cast their votes," he said. "And while there was some physical contact at the polling stations, we did not have a single reported case of the infection related to this election."
Kwon stressed continued concern about the global pandemic and advised caution while traveling during the long weekend but said that Korean health authorities feel they are getting the outbreak under control.
"If we continue to carry out our quarantine measures and they become part of our daily life, even if we see another surge of the outbreak, we believe that we will be able to effectively counter COVID-19 with full confidence," he said. "If you comply with the quarantine measures strictly, we would like to say that it is safe to enjoy your ordinary daily lives."