Inside La Palma’s volcano: lull in activity allows look into crater

By Marco Trujillo

LA PALMA (Reuters) -The Cumbre Vieja volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma was silent for a second day on Wednesday, giving scientists the first chance to study the main crater from its brink as the eruption appeared to be nearing its end after three months.

A group of scientists collecting gas geochemistry data reached the crater at 1300 GMT, the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute, Involcan, said, sharing the first footage of the interior of the volcano’s most active vent not taken by a drone.

La Palma volcano has been quiet since seismic activity all but stopped late on Monday. It is the longest period without tremors since the eruption began on Sept. 19.

Although scientists and monitoring systems detected no signs of volcanic activity, except for occasional and sporadic fumes, authorities warned the next few days would be crucial as it is not uncommon for volcanoes to resume expelling lava.

The eruption response committee said that in order to confirm that the eruption is finally over, “the recorded and observable data must remain at current levels for 10 days”.

“The best thing to do is not to give false hopes, for example in the 1949 eruption it stopped for several days, and several days later it got reactivated,” geologist Eumenio Ancoechea told Reuters.

The eruption, which sent rivers of molten rock down the slopes of Cumbre Vieja for weeks and expanded the size of the island by more than 48 hectares, is the longest on La Palma, according to records dating back to the 16th century.

Thousands of people have been evacuated, at least 2,910 buildings have been destroyed and the island’s main livelihood, banana plantations, have been devastated.

(Writing by Emma Pinedo, editing by Andrei Khalip, Alexandra Hudson)

South Korea reports recovered coronavirus patients testing positive again

By Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean officials on Friday reported 91 patients thought cleared of the new coronavirus had tested positive again.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), told a briefing that the virus may have been “reactivated” rather than the patients being re-infected.

South Korean health officials said it remains unclear what is behind the trend, with epidemiological investigations still under way.

The prospect of people being re-infected with the virus is of international concern, as many countries are hoping that infected populations will develop sufficient immunity to prevent a resurgence of the pandemic.

The South Korean figure had risen from 51 such cases on Monday.

Nearly 7,000 South Koreans have been reported as recovered from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

“The number will only increase, 91 is just the beginning now,” said Kim Woo-joo, professor of infectious diseases at Korea University Guro Hospital.

The KCDC’s Jeong raised the possibility that rather than patients being re-infected, the virus may have been “reactivated”.

Kim also said patients had likely “relapsed” rather than been re-infected.

False test results could also be at fault, other experts said, or remnants of the virus could still be in patients’ systems but not be infectious or of danger to the host or others.

“There are different interpretations and many variables,” said Jung Ki-suck, professor of pulmonary medicine at Hallym University Sacred Heart Hospital.

“The government needs to come up with responses for each of these variables”.

South Korea on Friday reported 27 new cases, its lowest after daily cases peaked at more than 900 in late February, according to KCDC, adding the total stood at 10,450 cases.

The death toll rose by seven to 211, it said.

The city of Daegu, which endured the first large coronavirus outbreak outside of China, reported zero new cases for the first time since late February.

With at least 6,807 confirmed cases, Daegu accounts for more than half of all South Korea’s total infections.

The spread of infections at a church in Daegu drove a spike in cases in South Korea beginning in late February.

The outbreak initially pushed the tally of confirmed cases much higher than anywhere else outside of China, before the country used widespread testing and social distancing measures to bring the numbers down.

(Reporting by Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha; editing by Michael Perry and Jason Neely)