SEOUL: South Korea reported fewer than 50 new coronavirus cases on Monday (Apr 6) for the first time since its Feb 29 peak as daily infections in Asia's largest outbreak outside China continued to trend downward.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 47 new infections, compared with 81 recorded a day earlier, taking the national cumulative tally to 10,284.
The death toll rose by three to 186, while another 135 people have recovered from the virus for a total of 6,598.
South Korea has largely managed to bring the epidemic under control for now, with around 100 or fewer new daily cases, but it was the first time the rate of daily cases dropped below 50.
But smaller outbreaks in churches, hospitals and nursing homes, as well as infections among travellers, continue to emerge, prompting the government on Saturday to extend an intensive social distancing campaign that was scheduled to end on Monday by two weeks.
It is "too early to be at ease", Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said last Saturday, citing a recent spike in imported cases and small cluster infections which also prompted the government to cancel the reopening of schools.
"Our goal is to be able to control infections in a way that our health and medical system, including personnel and sickbeds, can handle them at usual levels," Park told a briefing after a government meeting on the coronavirus.
"If the number goes down to 50 or lower, stable treatment of the patients including the critically ill will be possible without much pressure on the system."
READ: Japan PM Shinzo Abe could declare state of emergency as early as Tuesday amid COVID-19 outbreak: Report
Social distancing played a role in restraining domestic group transmissions by around 70 per cent during the first 11 days compared with the last 11 days before it took effect, Park said.
But there are signs that people restarted going out and socialising as fatigue about isolation grew and the weather improved, he said.
"We are well aware that many citizens are feeling exhausted and lethargic under continued social distancing," Park said. "But if we get loose, the strenuous efforts that the government and the people have made so far might come to nothing."