Health authorities in South Korea have reported there were no new domestic cases of the coronavirus disease at the end of Wednesday, the first time the country has recorded zero new cases since its outbreak began to worsen in February.
In a statement on Thursday, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said all four cases of new infections registered in the past 24 hours involved travelers from overseas.
Health authorities called the trend good news, but issued a note of caution about overly optimistic predictions.
“We are continuously on the alert to ensure we haven’t missed any new infections, or whether the epidemic could be spread by asymptomatic or mildly infected patients,” KCDC chief Jeong Eun-kyeong told a briefing.
The figures marked a new milestone in South Korea’s fight against COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus.
Earlier this year, South Korea had Asia’s largest number of infections outside China, but it has since been overtaken by other countries.
The latest figures on Thursday took the national tally to 10,765. The death toll rose by one to 247.
Of the total, 1,065 are imported cases, with more than 90 percent involving Koreans, according to the KCDC statement.
No coronavirus transmission during South Korea election
The health authorities also concluded no local transmission of coronavirus occurred from a parliamentary election this month, where authorities took safety measures, including requiring voters to wear masks and plastic gloves when casting ballots.
“Twenty-nine million voters participated in the April 15 parliamentary election … Not one case related to the election has been reported during the 14 days of incubation period,” Yoon Tae-ho, director general for public health policy, told a briefing.
Yoon thanked staff and voters, who disinfected polling stations across the country and maintained 1 metre (3.3 feet) distance between each other.
A clinical expert panel on Wednesday also concluded that recovered coronavirus patients who later test positive for the virus again were not “reactivated” or reinfected, but were false positives.
The head of the committee said the false positives were due to technical limits of PCR testing. The country has so far reported 292 such cases.
After grappling with the first major outbreak outside China, South Korea has largely managed to bring the outbreak under control without major disruptions with a massive testing campaign and intensive contact tracing.
Everyday life in quarantine
The country is expected to relax its social distancing guidelines in the coming days if its caseload maintains a downward trend at the end of the ongoing holiday period, which includes Buddha’s birthday on April 30, Labour Day on May 1 and Children’s Day on May 5.
“The government will evaluate the degree of risk every two weeks and readjust the level of social distancing when necessary,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo told reporters.
The Yonhap news agency said the country eventually plans to move on to what it calls “everyday life quarantine”, which means schools and workplaces will mostly return to their normal routines but take precautions to protect people from the coronavirus.
President Moon Jae-in on Sunday said South Korea’s progress gave hope that the coronavirus outbreak is “surmountable” in other parts of the world. Earlier this year, South Korea had Asia’s largest number of infections outside China. It has since been overtaken by other countries.
“The government will prepare for new daily lives and the new world order ‘post-Covid’ with the unified power of the citizens,” Moon said.
US President Donald Trump spoke to Moon on Saturday and expressed appreciation for South Korea’s help in procuring Covid-19 tests for the United States.
This story has been given a status of "Real News". Verification has been done on Al Jazeera.