By Josh Smith
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea said on Monday that at least 116 people originally cleared of the new coronavirus had tested positive again, although authorities have suggested that they will soon consider relaxing the stringent recommendations to prevent new epidemics.
South Korea reported only 25 new cases in total on Monday, but the increase in the number of “reactivated” patients has raised concerns as the country seeks to eradicate infections.
Authorities are still investigating the cause of the apparent relapses. But Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), said the virus may have been reactivated rather than the reinfected patients.
Other experts have said that faulty tests may play a role, or that remnants of the virus may still be in patient systems but not be infectious or dangerous to the host or others.
The 116 cases represent more than double the 51 cases reported by South Korea a week earlier.
South Korea plans to send 600,000 coronavirus test kits to the United States on Tuesday in the first such shipment following a request from US President Donald Trump, a Seoul official told Reuters on Monday.
Heads of government, for their part, called on the South Koreans to continue to follow directives and restrictions on social gatherings, but hinted that such measures could soon be relaxed.
South Korea called on residents to follow strict social distancing until at least April 19, but as cases have dropped and the weather has improved, more and more people have flouted the guidelines.
At a disaster management meeting on Monday, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the government would soon seek to relax the guidelines, which require people to stay at home, to avoid social gatherings of all kinds and to go out only for essential reasons. .
“Later this week, we plan to review our intensive social distancing campaign that we have carried out so far and discuss whether we will move on to routine security measures,” he said.
Some local governments have imposed tougher measures, including closing bars and nightclubs, banning large demonstrations and limiting religious services.
Chung warned that even when restrictions are relaxed, the country will not return to life as it did before the epidemic.
“We need a very cautious approach, because any premature relaxation of social distance could have irreversible consequences and we must deeply question ourselves about when and how we will move to the new system,” he said. .
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Sangmi Cha; Editing by Hugh Lawson)