SEOUL: South Korea, which has one of the world's largest coronavirus totals outside China, on Monday (Mar 9) reported 96 new coronavirus cases, taking the country's total infections to 7,478, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The updated numbers added to the 69 recorded earlier in the day, showing the rate of increase slowed to its lowest in 11 days.
Each morning, the South announces how many cases were diagnosed the previous day, and gives an update every afternoon with the current day's figures so far.
The South was the first country to report significant coronavirus numbers outside China, where the disease first emerged.
But in recent days the focus of global concern has been moving towards Italy and Iran, a quarter of Italy's population in lockdown Sunday as Rome announced infections soaring past 7,000 and deaths spiking to 366.
"I'm still extremely cautious, but there's hope we can reach a turning point in the near future," Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Monday before returning to Seoul from the hard-hit southeastern city of Daegu.
Health authorities say the number of new infections being identified has dwindled as most of the roughly 200,000 followers of a fringe Christian church at the centre of the epidemic in Daegu have now been tested.
The South has had 51 deaths, according to KCDC. Specialists say a key factor behind the South's much lower fatality rate from the virus relates to the pattern of people being infected.
Most of the South's cases are connected to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, many of whose members are women in their 20s and 30s.
But global figures show the virus is most deadly among older population groups, and in men in particular.
"SPORADIC INFECTIONS CONTINUE"
Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said it was premature to say the crisis was over, as new cases continued to emerge from smaller clusters.
"There are still many patients arising from Daegu and nearby regions ... and sporadic infections continue to emerge elsewhere, though they're not spreading as fast," Kim told a briefing.
"In fact, now is the time to concentrate all our capabilities to bring a clear reduction in infections."
Scores of events in the South - from K-pop concerts to sports matches - have been cancelled or postponed over the contagion, with school and kindergarten breaks extended by three weeks nationwide.
Hundreds of churches held online services on Sunday.
South Korea has also conducted one of the most ambitious coronavirus testing programmes in the world, with thousands of people being tested every day.
Facing shortages of face masks, the government will impose a rationing system to limit the number of masks each person can buy each week, starting on Monday.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Chung issued a public message, asking citizens to "actively cooperate" with the efforts to make sure healthcare workers and sick people have access to enough masks.
"Even if you feel inconvenienced, I ask you to show a mature sense of civil awareness, based on concessions, consideration and cooperation so that people who really need face masks can buy them," he said.
The government has imposed export restrictions on masks and urged factories to increase production.
South Korea has also faced an increasing number of travel restrictions, with more than 100 other countries imposing at least some restrictions on arrivals from South Korea.
The issue of travel restrictions rekindled a political and economic feud between South Korea and Japan last week, as South Korea said on Friday it would suspend visas and visa waivers for Japan in response to Tokyo's own travel restrictions on Koreans.