South Korea’s Moon sees ‘stable phase’ near in coronavirus fight

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in expressed guarded hope for the country’s fight against the coronavirus on Monday, saying an ongoing downward trend in new infections could lead to a phase of stability.

FILE PHOTO: Medical workers in protective gears walk into a hospital facility to treat coronavirus patients amid the rise in confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Daegu, South Korea, March 8, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

But he warned against prematurely calling the peak of the coronavirus outbreak, as new cases continued to emerge from smaller clusters.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 69 new coronavirus cases, although a more complete figure would be provided in another update later on Monday.

The new cases brought South Korea’s total infections to 7,382, while the death toll rose by one to 51, the KCDC said.

The rate of increase in new infections fell to its lowest level in 10 days on Sunday.

South Korea is one of the countries most severely affected outside mainland China.

Moon said South Korea can enter the “phase of stability” soon if it continues to reduce the number of new cases.

“We must maintain this trend”, he told a meeting with senior aides. “We’ve come this far thanks to the citizens who were united and cooperated well with the government.”

“But it’s too early to be optimistic…Please be a little bit more patient and stay away from mass gatherings such as religious events”, Moon added.

Health authorities say the number of new infections being identified has dwindled as most of the roughly 200,000 followers of a fringe Christian church at the center of the epidemic in the hard-hit southeastern city of Daegu have now been tested.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun also said at a separate meeting that he was still extremely cautious but “there’s hope we can reach a turning point in the near future”.

Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said it was premature to say the crisis was over, pointing to newly confirmed infections from smaller clusters such as hospitals and nursing homes.

“In fact, now is the time to concentrate all our capabilities to bring a clear reduction in infections”, Kim told a briefing.

South Korea started rationing surgical masks on Monday after imposing an export ban amid panic buying. Dozens of citizens were seen lining up outside pharmacies across the country.

CANCELED FLIGHTS, CONCERTS

Mutual travel restrictions imposed by South Korea and Japan also took effect, an issue that rekindled a diplomatic and economic feud between the old foes.

South Korea suspended visas and visa waivers for Japan on Friday, after Tokyo announced travel restrictions, joining more than 100 other countries limiting arrivals from South Korea.

Slideshow (4 Images)

The spat, together with oil price swings, sent South Korean shares and the won sharply lower and prompted the finance ministry to issue a verbal warning against disorderly market movement.

A series of K-pop concerts planned in Japan has been called off or postponed, including by Super Junior, Stray Kids and CJ ENM which had planned a major annual festival featuring TWICE and IZ*ONE.

Korean Air, which had previously operated 17 flights to Japan, said it had stopped all but one between Seoul and Tokyo, while Asiana Airlines halted all of its 11 routes for the first time since it started flying to Japan 30 years ago, company officials said.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Stephen Coates and Michael Perry

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