The number of patients confirmed with the new coronavirus from China has increased to 19 in total in South Korea as of Wednesday. Most of all, it is concerning that patients whose point of transmission is unknown have started to turn up. It is unclear whether the 16th patient in her 40s has contracted the virus in a third country – Thailand in which she traveled – or domestically. The 17th patients, a 38-year-old male, visited Singapore to attend an international conference. As a Malaysian attendee of the meeting has tested positive for the virus, he is also categorized as a case of virus infection in a third-country. It is possible that the new coronavirus has spread extensively across Southeast Asia beyond China.
South Korea’s infection control network has failed to filter third-country infection cases as it is designed with a focus on entrants from China and those who have had contact with confirmed patients. The 16th and 17th patients had visited many places over extended periods until they have tested positive for the virus. The 16th patient visited a clinic and a university hospital six times over the period of 16 days for chills and fever since she returned to South Korea on January 19. However, as she had not visited China she was not tested for the coronavirus. The 17th patient also visited a hospital, pharmacy, supermarket, restaurant, etc. for 10 days from January 24 as he was also excluded from a test for the virus, as well as monitoring and quarantine, due to the lack of his visit to China.
Ever since the first coronavirus case emerged in South Korea on January 20, the government has been lagging in responses, increasing the risk of viral infection in local communities. A patient who had not shown any symptom was excluded from monitoring and quarantine. The South Korean government’s entry ban to foreign nationals coming from or through China's Hubei province, which has been locked down by the Chinese government, is doubtful to have much impact as it only took effect on Tuesday when new patients started to appear across China
Considering the aforementioned two patients who had been free to travel in local communities due to delayed tests and their family members, it has become difficult to gauge the number of people who had come in contact with them. It should be assumed that infection in local communities has already begun and the infection control network should be expanded. More preemptive responses, such as raising the contagious disease alert level to the “serious” level, should be taken. For the “serious” level, the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters presided by the prime minister will be formed and Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters will be operated by local governments. Both public and private sectors, including schools and companies, will be involved in infection control efforts under an emergency response system. It’s all about a race against time now. The coronavirus should be contained in the near future to reduce the social and economic aftermath to be experienced by the South Korean society by focusing resources, such as initial diagnosis kits for the virus and public health employees.
Kyung-Im Woo firstname.lastname@example.org