South Korea has reported another huge spike of 231 new coronavirus cases yesterday, among them a health official leading the battle against the virus in the south-eastern city of Daegu, who has admitted he is a member of the secretive church linked to more than half of the country’s infections.
This brings the total number of confirmed cases to 833 as of yesterday, with 14 in critical condition. The country also reported two more deaths, raising the tally to eight, while 22 people have made a full recovery.
South Korean stocks tumbled 4 per cent yesterday over virus woes, as the central bank urged continued efforts to minimise the fallout from the outbreak.
President Moon Jae-in yesterday proposed a supplementary budget to support government efforts to fight the virus, calling for “extraordinary measures to deal with the emergency economic situation”.
Since declaring a red alert on Sunday, the government has been scrambling to contain a widespread community outbreak centred on Daegu and nearby Cheongdo city.
At least six countries, including Israel and Jordan, have banned visitors from South Korea. Nine other nations, including Singapore and the United States, have issued travel advisories telling their people to exercise caution and avoid unnecessary travel to South Korea.
More than 450 cases are linked to the Daegu branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which has been labelled a cult, while the Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo has reported more than 110 infections, including nine medical staff.
Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin said yesterday that the head of the Daegu west district health office’s infectious disease prevention team told colleagues that he is a Shincheonji member after he tested positive for the virus on Sunday. His details have been withheld.
Three other health officials have also tested positive, and 50 others were told to quarantine themselves as a precautionary measure.
Doctors are still unsure how the virus started spreading so rapidly, after Patient No. 31 – a 61-year-old woman from Daegu who attends Shincheonji – tested positive last Tuesday, despite having no recent travel history or contact with a previous confirmed patient.
But more details have emerged about how contact with Shincheonji members caused the virus to spread all over the country.
Patient No. 31 was at a wedding that the youngest patient – a 16-month-old girl living in Gimpo, west of Seoul – and her parents attended in Daegu on Feb 15. All three are infected.
In southern city Busan, a hospital for the elderly was shut down yesterday after a 56-year-old woman working there tested positive for the virus. She is said to have connections to Shincheonji.
A 22-year-old naval officer became the first coronavirus case on Jeju island after he returned from his hometown Daegu, where he met his girlfriend, a Shincheonji member. He tested positive last Friday.
There are now 13 cases of coronavirus in the military, with around 7,500 soldiers under quarantine. About 350 of them have shown flu-like symptoms or had direct contact with previous confirmed cases, the Defence Ministry said.
The United States Forces Korea also reported its first coronavirus case yesterday – a 61-year-old Daegu-based American widow of a retired soldier. It is not known yet how she could have been infected.