On Tuesday, Feburary 25, representatives of Korean Air said that the airline will extend flight suspensions to China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, through Saturday, April 25. This follows as one of the airline's flight attendants tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) after serving on some international flights. As of Tuesday, Asiana Airlines has also suspended flight routes for several weeks, including to cities in Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Mongolia, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, and Lisbon. The two international airlines had suspended flights to Daegu (North Gyeongsang province, Shincheonji region) on Monday, February 24, after a surge in cases linked to a religious sect in Daegu and a hospital in Cheongdo (North Gyeongsang province) led to their February 21 designation as "special care zones." Several low-cost carriers have also implemented flight suspensions; Air Seoul has suspended all flights on its ten international routes. Further domestic and international flight disruptions, including suspensions and reductions in flight services, are anticipated in the coming days and weeks.
As of Wednesday, February 26, several countries and territories including Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macao, Israel, Laos, Vietnam, Mongolia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and the UK have implemented travel restrictions for individuals having recently traveled from or through South Korea. Further travel restrictions for individuals traveling from or via South Korea and/or for South Korean nationals are anticipated in the near term.
Health officials have confirmed cases in most major cities and regions in the country as of Wednesday, with the highest number of cases in Daegu followed by the Gyeongbuk region. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) on Wednesday confirmed 1146 cases of COVID-19 and 12 related fatalities. KCDC officials said that a further 22 individuals have recovered from the virus. Health officials have failed to identify the source of a number of COVID-19 cluster infections across the country, as they continue to carry out source tracings for infected individuals. A US soldier stationed at a base near Daegu tested positive for the virus on Wednesday, and is in self-quarantine. The US military command in South Korea raised its risk level to high on Monday.
On Sunday, February 23, the government issued a red (the highest on a four-tier scale) warning in preparation for potential nationwide transmission of COVID-19. The culture ministry canceled several political and cultural events scheduled for the week of February 24, in addition to temporarily closing museums and libraries. Significant business and transportation disruptions are possible.
Further spread of COVID-19 is expected over the coming days and weeks across South Korea.
The first case of COVID-19 was reported on December 31 and the source of the outbreak has been linked to a wet market in Wuhan (Hubei province, China). Human-to-human and patient-to-medical staff transmission of the virus have been confirmed. Many of the associated fatalities have been due to pneumonia caused by the virus.
Cases of the virus have been confirmed in more than 30 countries and territories worldwide. Virus-screening and quarantining measures are being implemented at airports worldwide, as well as extensive travel restrictions. On February 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the COVID-19 outbreak is a "very grave threat."
Pneumonia symptoms include dry cough, chest pain, fever, and labored breathing. Pneumonia can be contagious and can be transmitted from human to human. The influenza virus, or the flu, is a common cause of viral pneumonia.
Individuals in South Korea are advised to monitor the situation, confirm travel itineraries, anticipate further transportation and business disruptions, and adhere to all instructions issued by local authorities.
To reduce the general risk of transmission, travelers are advised to abide the following measures:
- Frequently clean hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water
- When coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue - throw tissue away immediately and wash hands
- If you have fever, cough, and difficulty breathing seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your health care provider
- Adhere to all instructions issued by local authorities and their home governments
In the case that symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness emerge either during or after travel, individuals are encouraged to seek medical attention and share their travel history with their health care provider. Travelers returning from China who develop symptoms of pneumonia are advised to call emergency services before going to the doctor or hospital to avoid potential spread of the disease.
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