Despite enhanced quarantine efforts, concerns are rising here that the Wuhan coronavirus may spread across the country as some patients confirmed to be infected with the virus have not been adequately screened at airports and have been in contact with citizens here.
According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) on Monday, a 55-year-old South Korean man who returned from the Chinese city of Wuhan on Jan. 20 tested positive for the new strain of virus, raising the number of confirmed cases here to the four.
The patient, who had not shown any signs of illness upon entering the country after returning from a trip to Wuhan, visited a local clinic a day after returning home when he showed signs of a cold.
The KCDC said it was only on Sunday that doctors started to actively monitor the man before finally placing him in quarantine.
The third patient, a 54-year-old Korean man who also showed no signs of illness when he arrived from China last week, had been in contact with 74 people, although none have shown symptoms of the new type of coronavirus so far, adding to concerns it may spread across the country via "no-symptom" patients who have not been detected upon arrival in South Korea.
The KCDC said it has closed down the local clinic to conduct a detailed investigation and to look into how it failed to promptly report a suspected patient to the health authorities.
The KCDC said it is also investigating whether the patient had actually displayed symptoms or not and will announce details of the epidemiological investigation later in the day.
Experts also noted the importance of citizens voluntarily reporting themselves to health authorities when they have possible symptoms.
Common signs of the coronavirus, thought to have originated in Wuhan, a central Chinese city of 11 million people, include fever, sore throat and breathing difficulties, with more acute cases bringing chills and muscle pain.
South Korea has put the utmost effort into containing the spreading disease, including actively monitoring travelers at airports and considering evacuating its citizens from Wuhan.
China, meanwhile, said Tuesday that the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak there has soared to 106, with nearly 1,300 new cases confirmed.
The Wuhan coronavirus, first reported on Dec. 31, 2019, was originally believed to be passed to humans from animals but is now known to be transmissible from person to person, although victims may be contracting the virus by coming in contact with saliva and other bodily fluids rather than through airborne factors.