SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says at least 74 people who had been diagnosed as recovered from the new coronavirus tested positive for the second time after they were released from hospitals.
Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Thursday said health authorities were testing virus and serum samples to determine whether patients who tested positive again would be capable of transmitting the virus to others and whether their bodies had properly created antibodies.
She said some of the patients did not show any symptoms before their follow-up tests turned positive, while others were tested again because they were exhibiting respiratory symptoms. She said none of these patients so far have seen their illness worsen to serious conditions.
South Korean officials have been cautious about discussing the possibility that people could get re-infected with the virus after making a full recovery.
Lee Hyuk-min, a professor from Seoul’s Yonsei University College of Medicine, said it’s more likely that infections were reactivated after initially fading in patients whose bodies hadn’t fully developed immunity.
“Some people who had recovered from mild cases may not fully develop immunity, and in such cases of course, (infections) could reactivate after a certain period of time,” Lee said. “The other possibility is people being exposed to environments that affect their immune systems following their release from hospitals, which could also result in reactivation.”
In other news from South Korea, the nation’s top central banker said he expects slow but positive economic growth for the trade-dependent country this year despite worldwide shocks wrought by the coronavirus.
Bank of Korea Governor Lee Ju-yeol’s assessment Thursday came after the bank held its policy rate at 0.75% despite calls for lower borrowing costs. The bank’s monetary policymakers said they need to wait for the effect of financial tools that had already been employed to spur the economy.
Lee said his forecast for economic growth was based on expectations that the global pandemic will start to slow in the second quarter and stabilize in the latter half of the year.
“We forecast the South Korean economy to manage positive growth this year, but it would be difficult for the rate of growth to reach 1%,” Lee said. “Ultimately, (economic) flows and aspects will depend on how the Covid-19 situation develops.”
The Bank of Korea lowered its annual growth forecast for the economy from 2.3% to 2.1% in February.
The bank in March executed an emergency rate cut of 0.5% to bring its policy rate to an all-time low of 0.75%. It also expanded short-term borrowings for banks and other financial institutions through repurchase agreements to calm markets rattled by the coronavirus crisis.
Some experts say it’s unclear whether traditional financial tools to boost money supplies would be effective now, when the global pandemic has damaged both supply and demand, decimating industrial hubs in China and Italy and forcing millions to stay at home under tightened quarantines.
Iran May Bar Mass Prayers During Ramadan
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader is suggesting that mass gatherings in the Islamic Republic may be barred through the holy Muslim fasting month Ramadan due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made the comment Thursday as Iran is trying to restart its economic activity after suffering one of the world’s worst outbreaks. Ramadan is to begin in late April and last through most of May.
Khamenei urged Shiite faithful to pray in their homes during Ramadan. Shiite typically pray communally, especially during Ramadan.
Iran has reported more than 67,000 cases of the new virus, with nearly 4,000 deaths. However, experts have repeatedly questioned those numbers, as Iran initially downplayed the outbreak in February amid the 41st anniversary of its 1979 Islamic Revolution and a crucial parliamentary vote.
Belgian Officials Seek Help From Army
BRUSSELS — Authorities in the French-speaking Walloon region have requested the support of Belgian armed forces to tackle a worrying situation at nursing homes, where several hundred residents have died of Covid-19.
According to official figures released this month, one-third of the deaths linked to the deadly virus in southern Belgium have been registered in resting homes.
Christie Morreale, the Walloon health minister, said Thursday that her request for help has been granted by Belgian federal authorities. A total of 116 nursing homes in the region have been hit by a Covid-19 cluster, where at least 10 cases of the new coronavirus have been confirmed.
Morreale said the military could help cater to residents or decontaminate premises infected with the deadly virus. She also asked doctors to volunteer to attend to patients in the homes.
The situation is dire too in the neighboring Flanders region, where more than 600 nursing home residents are suspected to have died of the coronavirus crisis.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 2,000 virus-related deaths have been recorded in the country with a population of approximately 11.5 million people.
Moscow Infections Top 10,000
MOSCOW — The number of coronavirus cases in Russia has surpassed 10,000.
The country’s health officials reported 1,459 new cases on Thursday, bringing Russia’s total to 10,131, with 76 deaths. Moscow accounted for 6,698 infections, authorities said.
The outbreak in Russia has picked up speed in recent weeks, with the number of cases growing exponentially and doubling every few days.
President Vladimir Putin this month ordered most Russians to stay off work until the end of April in a partial economic shutdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus. He said some essential industries will keep operating, and grocery stores and pharmacies will remain open. All Russian regions have been on lockdown since the beginning of the month.
Recession Predicted for Africa
JOHANNESBURG — The World Bank says sub-Saharan Africa is expected to fall into recession for the first time in a quarter-century due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The bank’s new report projects growth across the nearly 50-country region to fall this year from 2.4% to at least minus 2.1% or even up to minus 5%. It says countries that depend heavily on oil production and mining will be hit especially hard. And the largest economies — South Africa, Nigeria and Angola — which already were sluggish, will see even more pain.
Africa has had some of the world’s fastest-growing economies in recent years. The World Bank says African nations will require a “debt service standstill” and other financial assistance.
African leaders have been calling for debt relief, warning the pandemic will continue to threaten the world if any region goes without needed support.
Japan’s Abe Knocked for Sluggish Response
TOKYO — Japan’s central government was dragging its feet and causing delays for Tokyo and other prefectures that want to take further steps than just asking their residents to stay home under the state of emergency.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a month-long state of emergency Tuesday for Tokyo and six other prefectures, but so far is only asking the people to stay at home and reduce human interactions. Abe has been criticized for being too slow and lenient on the measures due to its concerns about hurting the economy.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Thursday additional measures such as shutdown requests for nonessential businesses should wait until experts and officials evaluate how the people’s social distancing worked.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, who on Monday outlined her business closure plans, said she had to renegotiate with Abe’s government, whose policy is more lenient. Koike said Tokyo is in a dire situation with new cases surging by day and cannot hold nonessential business shutdowns for two more weeks.
Also Thursday, Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura announced plans to declare a local state of emergency Friday because the prefecture, home to Toyota Motor Corp., is excluded from Abe’s declaration despite the rapid surge of infections. Suga said the government does not plan to add Aichi as an eighth prefecture immediately and that any addition will require consultations with experts and other procedures.
India, Worried, Locks Down Tighter
NEW DELHI — Indian authorities have identified and sealed dozens of hot spots in the Indian capital and the neighboring Uttar Pradesh state’s residential districts to check the rising trajectory of new coronavirus infections.
Government statements late Wednesday said people will be supplied food, medicines and other supplies at their doorsteps and they will not be allowed to leave these areas.
Authorities also made it compulsory for people to wear face masks when stepping outdoors in areas not covered by these restrictions in the two states.
The sealing of hot spots came as the number of confirmed cases in India crossed the 5,000 mark, with 166 deaths, according to India’s Health Ministry.
India put its entire population of 1.3 billion, one-fifth of the world’s population, under lockdown for three weeks until April 14.
Although the new coronavirus cases are spread over roughly 40% of India’s districts, they are concentrated in India’s densely populated urban centers. Mumbai, previously known as Bombay, is the worst affected.
India’s strategy is focused around identifying containment zones where efforts would be targeted on restricting the virus “within a defined geographic area” to break the chain of transmission.
Slovakia Locks Down Roma Camps
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s authorities have ordered a lockdown of five poor settlements where the Roma live after 31 people there tested positive for the coronavirus.
Prime Minister Igor Matovic announced the lockdown, the first in Slovakia, on Thursday, saying, “I’ll be glad if you understand the necessity of the decision.”
Military health personnel started the testing on Friday in 33 such settlements where the poorest of the poor Roma live, often without access to running water and without sewage systems. Authorities fear such conditions would result in a rapid spreading of the infection.
The testing in the settlements was requested by Roma activists.
Initially, authorities were focusing on over a thousand of those Roma who recently returned from abroad from countries seriously hit by the epidemic, including Britain. A total of 816 had been tested as of Wednesday. Slovakia has 682 infections, and two people have died.