The Koreas Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Thursday that no new domestic cases and only four cases, all imported, had been detected in the previous 24 hours. But on Friday, nine new cases brought national totals to 10,774 infections and 248 deaths.
None of the new cases were from the hardest-hit city of Daegu, where more than 6800 people have been sickened since February. The KCDC says at least 1073 cases have been linked to passengers arriving from overseas, but such infections have also slowed in recent weeks amid stronger border controls.
The country was reporting around 500 new cases a day in early March, but it hasn’t seen a daily jump above 100 since April 1. The slowing caseload has allowed the government to relax social distancing guidelines as it shifts focus to easing the shock on the economy.
It is expected to ease up on more restrictions in the coming days if the downward trend continues.
South Korea had its first confirmed coronavirus case January 20, the same day as the United States. But unlike the US, officials there used a test focused on the same gene targets as the World Health Organisation’s recommended test, according to the website of a test manufacturer. The government then quickly allowed private sector labs to produce it.
As a result, a nation with less than one-sixth the population of the US mobilised to test more than 20,000 people a day. It also instituted drive-through testing centres, allowing quicker identification of those who were infected but might not be displaying symptoms, thus slowing the emergence of new cases to a more manageable level.
By comparison, the US CDC decided to develop its own test, focusing on three gene targets distinct from what the WHO used. The test was reportedly flawed and according to CDC data only 472 patients had been tested nationwide on February 29, with just 22 cases confirmed.
The result was that while South Korea was able to manage its caseload, the rate of US infections soared.
Guterres said South Korea has been “extremely successful” in addressing the pandemic and along with its plan to tackle climate change in its recovery from COVID-19, served as an example to others.
Recovery from the pandemic “needs to go hand-in-hand with climate action”, he said.
He called on governments to ensure that spending to revitalise their economies gives priority to the creation of “green jobs” and use of low-carbon energy sources.
“Taxpayers’ money should not be used to subsidise fossil fuels or bail out polluting, carbon-intensive industries,” the UN chief said. “Now is the time to put a price on carbon and for polluters to pay for their pollution.”