Photo/Illutration A health official wearing protective gear gives surveys to people waiting for the COVID-19 test at a public health center in Goyang, South Korea, on May 28. (AP Photo)

SEOUL--South Korean health authorities said on Friday they would request imports of Gilead Sciences Inc.’s anti-viral drug remdesivir to treat COVID-19, as new outbreaks of the disease flare as social distancing restrictions are eased.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety must approve the import of the drug but a government panel concluded remdesivir showed positive results, Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) Director Jeong Eun-kyeong said.

Foster City, California-based Gilead has said the drug has improved outcomes for people suffering from the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus and has provided data suggesting it works better when given in the early stages of infection.

Preliminary results from a trial led by the U.S. Institutes of Health showed remdesivir cut hospital stays by 31 percent compared with a placebo treatment, although it did not significantly improve survival.

Remdesivir, which previously failed as a treatment for Ebola, is designed to stop some viruses making copies of themselves inside infected cells.

After mounting an intensive campaign of tracing and testing to blunt an initial wave of coronavirus infections in February and March, South Korea has seen smaller but persistent outbreaks as it has lifted some social distancing restrictions in recent weeks.

As of midnight on Thursday, the KCDC reported 58 new cases, bringing the country’s total to 11,402, with 269 deaths.

The new spike in infections have been clustered in Seoul and the surrounding areas, raising concern that the densely populated capital city could see a wider outbreak.

Those concerns prompted officials this week to close most government-run facilities like museums, galleries and theaters.

Education authorities, meanwhile, said they would press on with a phased reopening of schools, but imposed limits on the number of children allowed in some. Hundreds of schools across the country have been closed again, as new cases spring up.