Not again: Coronavirus ‘reactivates’ in cured patients in South Korea

In a development which would further complicate the war on the disease, officials on Friday reported 91 patients previously cleared of infection had tested positive once again. Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), told a briefing the virus may have been “reactivated” rather than the patients being re-infected. South Korean health officials admit they are currently baffled, with epidemiological investigations still under way.

The prospect of people being re-infected with the virus is of international concern, as many countries are hoping that infected populations will develop sufficient immunity to prevent a resurgence of the pandemic, meaning the reactivation theory would be a preferable explanation.

The South Korean figure had increased from 51 such cases on Monday.

Almost 7,000 South Koreans have been reported as having recovered from COVID-19.

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The number will only increase, 91 is just the beginning now

Kim Woo-joo

Kim Woo-joo, professor of infectious diseases at Korea University Guro Hospital, warned: “The number will only increase, 91 is just the beginning now.”

Like Jeong, Kim said he believed patients had likely “relapsed” rather than been re-infected.

Other experts claimed false test results could also be an explanation, or alternatively, remnants of the virus could still be in patients’ systems but not be infectious or of danger to the host or others.

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Jung Ki-suck, professor of pulmonary medicine at Hallym University Sacred Heart Hospital, said: “There are different interpretations and many variables.

“The government needs to come up with responses for each of these variables”.

South Korea’s prompt response to the pandemic, and rigorous testing system, has been praised for minimising the number of cases in the 51-million population country.

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A total of 27 new cases were reported on Friday, South Korea’s lowest after daily cases peaked at more than 900 in late February, according to KCDC, with the total standing at 10,450 cases.

The death toll rose by seven to 211, it said.

The city of Daegu, which was hit by the first large coronavirus outbreak outside of China, reported zero new cases for the first time since late February.

With at least 6,807 confirmed cases, the city accounts for more than half of all South Korea’s total infections.

The spread of infections at a church in Daegu is thought to have played a major role in pushing up cases in the country in late February.

The outbreak initially pushed the tally of confirmed cases much higher than anywhere else outside of China, before the country used widespread testing and social distancing to tackle the situation.

The unpredictability of the virus is of significant concern to health experts trying to understand the mechanisms by which it spreads – and recurs in areas where the pandemic was previously believed to be under control.

Last week, despite China’s insistence that it was winning the battle, a cluster of cases among medical staff at Jia County People’s Hospital in Henan Province prompted authorities to impose authorities have imposed fresh travel restrictions, with non-essential travel banned between villages and communities.

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