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South Korea declares third city as special care zone as cases spike

President Moon receives letter of support from North Korean leader as infected cases cross 6,000.

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Updated: March 6, 2020

South Korea has declared a third city a “special care zone” to boost its capability to fight a spike in coronavirus infections, with cases nationwide soaring beyond 6,000.

The death toll stands at 42, mostly the elderly with underlying health conditions, while 88 people have recovered, including 47 discharged yesterday.

The care zone announcement came as the presidential Blue House revealed that South Korean President Moon Jae-in received a letter on Wednesday from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressing support and comfort to the people battling the coronavirus outbreak, adding that he is confident they will “prevail in this fight without fail”.

Mr Kim also underscored his “unwavering friendship and trust” in Mr Moon, adding that he is worried about the President’s health. Mr Moon has conveyed his gratitude in a letter.

The Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported 467 new cases yesterday, bringing the total to 6,088.

South-eastern city Gyeongsan, home to about 275,000 people, was designated the third special care zone yesterday due to a spike in infections. There are now more than 340 cases there, including a cluster outbreak at a nursing home.

Nearby Daegu, which has over 4,300 cases – with most linked to the secretive Shincheonji Church of Jesus – and Cheongdo, with more than 110 cases, were named special care zones on Feb 21.

This means they will get military medical assistance, temporary quarantine facilities and medical resources and supplies.

Even so, more than 2,000 patients in Daegu are still waiting to be admitted as hospitals have run out of beds. Officials said most of them exhibit light symptoms.

Vice-Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told a briefing that the number of new infections in Daegu is expected to drop once they complete testing the city’s 10,000 Shincheonji members. After that, they will shift their focus to testing Shincheonji members nationwide and examining small cluster outbreaks not related to the church.

The number of recoveries is also slated to increase, he added, noting that it takes two to eight weeks to treat patients.

Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin said yesterday that they are fighting a war every day, but “our citizens are showing surprising wisdom and courage”.

On Twitter, President Moon praised acts of kindness by ordinary citizens to help fight the virus.

He noted how Daegu Medical Centre and Keimyung University Daegu Dongsan Hospital have both been inundated with face masks, beverages and meals donated by residents, how the Community Chest of Korea has received 27 billion won (S$31.5 million) in donations in less than 10 days, how one citizen anonymously sent 30,000 face masks to a community health centre and how guest houses are offering free rooms for medical staff to rest.

“I cannot help but be left in solemn awe upon hearing the news about Daegu citizens taking care of each other in matters that the nation cannot address,” he wrote.

Shincheonji church said yesterday that it has donated 12 billion won to CommChest Korea, as church members “feel responsible for the massive number of infections of the virus” and are doing their best to support government efforts to fight the outbreak.

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