SEOUL -- South Korea strengthened quarantine measures to contain a novel coronavirus amid growing concerns that the deadly virus from China can be spread by people showing no symptoms, although there has been some debate whether asymptomatic transmission is possible.
From Tuesday, foreigners who have been in China's Hubei Province in the past two weeks will be barred from entering South Korea, while everyone who has visited China in the last two weeks will be screened even if they show no symptoms. Those who have been in contact with confirmed cases will be placed into obligatory self-quarantine for weeks.
"Those who come into contact at a time when a patient with confirmed coronavirus infections shows symptoms should be all be put into self-quarantine regardless of the extent of their contact,"
Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), a state anti-epidemic agency, said in a regular press briefing.
Of 15 confirmed patients reported in South Korea as of Monday, four were found to be infected by others, leading to stricter quarantine measures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus unknowingly before the onset of symptoms.
A KCDC official suggested that South Korea may have to take a different approach based on the level of risk and broaden a travel ban.
In a meeting of senior aides on Monday, President Moon Jae-in defended a partial ban on travelers from China as "inevitable" to protect South Koreans. "There are cases in which those showing no symptoms are found to be confirmed cases and concerns about asymptomatic transmission."
Jeong admitted that people showing no symptoms making it much difficult to contain the virus. "Its ability to infect should still be based on more evidence, but reports from other countries suggest that there's a possibility," she said, adding symptoms of pneumonia appearing on X-rays are much more serious, but patients are not complaining so much about severe respiratory symptoms.
Along with oxygenation, doctors apply antibiotics to prevent secondary infection and some antiviral drugs if needed, Jeong said. "There are a lot of unknowns about when the incubation period begins or when it's to release the bacteria."
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