51 recovered coronavirus patients test positive again in SKorea

Meanwhile, 34 European nations are facing the suspension of visa-free entry and visa waiver programs

At least 51 patients diagnosed as having fully recovered from the coronavirus in South Korea have tested positive a second time after leaving quarantine, according to officials. The patients from Daegu all tested positive in a “relatively short time” after they were given the all-clear from their initial infections, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said, according to the government-funded Yonhap News Agency.

A specialist team has been sent to conduct an epidemiological investigation in the city, which is the epicenter of the epidemic in South Korea, the agency says. For now, the KCDC’s director-general, Jeong Eun-kyeong, believes it is likely the infection was re-activated after remaining dormant in the patients, as opposed to them being reinfected, the report said.

Either way, it strengthens fears that the contagion remains a hidden danger even after it appears to have gone - with whistleblowing Chinese doctors previously warning it is even deadlier the second time.

Doctors on the front lines in Wuhan - where the virus first originated - previously said as many as 10% of those assumed to have recovered had tested positive again. At least one patient - Li Liang, 36 - reportedly died from the disease after previously getting the all-clear.

Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases professor at the University of East Anglia, however, told MailOnline that the cases were far more likely to be “reactivations” - or even just a sign of current testing being flawed.

“Personally, I think the most likely explanation is that the clearance samples were false negative,” Hunter told the site.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the government will suspend visa-free entry and visa waiver programs for 90 countries imposing entry bans on South Koreans from Monday next week as part of efforts to curb the coronavirus inflow from overseas, officials said Thursday. Along with the planned suspension of visa exemptions, all 90-day visas that were issued before 5 April of this year have also become invalid, according to the joint press release by the foreign and justice ministries.

The toughened visa restrictions come as South Korea has seen an increasing number of coronavirus infection cases coming in from abroad, which has emerged as a key factor behind the continuing virus outbreak. Of the total 10,423 infection cases reported as of Thursday, 861 cases had come from overseas.

The recent rise in imported cases has weighed on the country's quarantine capacity, already stressed by virtually endless demand to check all international arrivals after the government toughened quarantine steps early this month. On a daily average, foreign nationals with short-term visas accounted for about 30 percent of some 1,500 international passengers arriving in Korea since early this month.

The bulk of the 90 countries facing the suspension of visa exemptions will be in Europe and the Americas. A total of 34 European nations, including Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands, will be affected, along with 23 countries from the Americas, such as Canada. Eighteen countries in the Asia Pacific region, such as Singapore, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand, will come under the new rules along with nine Middle Eastern countries and six in Africa.

Only a handful of countries, including the United States, Britain, Ireland and Mexico, will be excluded from the measure as they are still allowing South Koreans to enter. China is not subject to the measure as there is no visa-free agreement or program in place between Seoul and Beijing. Foreigners who hold such short-term visas must reapply for a new one. Exceptions apply in some cases, such as for diplomats, flight attendants and C-4 visa holders, who are sponsored by local firms for their highly specialized skills.

Foreigners who have already entered South Korea will also be excluded. They are permitted to stay until their existing visas expire, while citizens of certain countries that have maintained their present visa waiver rules for South Korea despite the pandemic, such as Mexico and Venezuela, will be allowed into the country.

The government said it will also toughen the review process for all new visa applications. Foreigners will be required to submit a health certificate detailing whether the applicant shows any symptoms related to the virus.
Seoul, however, said that the restrictions do not apply to diplomats and foreign officials entering the country to handle matters of state. Visits that are vital for investment, technical reasons and to facilitate business will be permitted along with movement for humanitarian purposes.

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