Daego South Korea
23 Feb 20
South Korean coronavirus cases have doubled to 433 and there are fears the tally could surge again after more than 1000 people who went to a church at the centre of the outbreak reported flu-like symptoms.
South Korea’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 142 new cases at a Saturday morning briefing and another 87 in the afternoon.
KCDC also reported another death from the virus, bringing the total to three.
Of the new cases, most have been linked to outbreaks at a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the southeast city of Daegu and a hospital in Cheongdo county.
Samsung Electronics said one of the virus cases had been confirmed at its mobile device factory complex in Gumi, causing a shutdown of the facility there until Monday morning. Gumi is close to Daegu.
Samsung’s factory in Gumi accounts for a small portion of its total smartphone production.
The government designated both Daegu, which has a population of 2.5 million people, and Cheongdo county, home to around 43,000 people, as “special care zones” on Friday.
Officials sent military medical staff and other health workers, and extra resources, including hospital beds.
More than half of the national cases are linked to a 61-year-old woman known as “Patient 31” who attended religious services at a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu.
The woman had no recent record of overseas travel, authorities said.
KCDC said on Saturday they had obtained a list of 9300 people who had attended church services, around 1200 of whom had complained of flu-like symptoms.
The church and Cheongdo hospital outbreaks may also be linked, as several church members attended a funeral at the hospital for the brother of the church’s founder this month.
President Moon Jae-in has called for officials to investigate potential links.
Cases from the hospital surged near a hundred overnight, with all but two of the new infections coming from the hospital’s psychiatric unit, where KCDC director Jeong Eun-kyeong said patients often share rooms.
“We think the patients had repeated exposure given the isolated facility of the psychiatric wards, where many patients share the same room,” she told reporters.
The hospital, which has around 600 patients and staff, has been closed and patients are being transferred to other facilities.
In the capital Seoul, thousands of people took to the streets on Saturday for regular weekend political rallies, despite the city’s mayor on Friday saying the gatherings would be banned as part of containment measures.
North Gyeongsang Province governor Lee Cheol-woo said among the new confirmed cases were nine of the 39 South Koreans who went on a pilgrimage to Israel earlier this month.
Political rallies go ahead despite ban
Two people have died in South Korea in the current outbreak; a woman in her fifties who was moved from to Busan for treatment and a 63-year-old man. Both were patients at the Cheongdo hospital.
Among the new cases confirmed on Saturday, two were in Busan, while one was on Jeju, a soldier stationed on the island who had come into contact with residents in the Daegu area.
The government had banned all military personnel at a Daegu base from leaving the barracks.
In the capital of Seoul, thousands of people took to the streets on Saturday for regular weekend political rallies, despite the city’s mayor on Friday saying the gatherings would be banned as part of containment measures.
Seoul police told Reuters that they were aware of the ban but that it would be an “abuse of power” for them to intervene.
Alarm in the Holy Land
Israeli and Palestinian authorities sought to quell fears of a potential local outbreak of the coronavirus after learning that South Korean pilgrims who had toured some of the Holy Land’s most popular sites were later found to be carrying the virus.
The nine tourists, who tested positive for coronavirus after returning to South Korea, earlier this month visited holy sites including Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Cave of the Patriarchs in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, according to Israel’s Health Ministry.
The ministry published the group’s itinerary and said it was carrying out an “epidemiological investigation” to track any potential spread.
It ordered anyone who was in close contact with the group to report it to the ministry and to stay at home for 14 days while monitoring their health.
The Palestinian Health Ministry issued similar instructions for the Palestinian territories.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry called an emergency meeting to assess the impact of what it called “the pilgrims affair” and, if needed, to take steps to explain the situation to others around the world.
An Israeli woman who was aboard the coronavirus-hit cruise ship Diamond Princess tested positive for the virus after returning to Israel on Friday but was in good condition and not showing any symptoms, health officials said.
There have been no other confirmed cases of the virus in Israel or the Palestinian territories.
The coronavirus originated in China before spreading to some 26 countries and territories outside mainland China.
The death toll based on official figures in mainland China rose to 2,345 as of Friday.