South Korea and China reported an increase in new coronavirus cases on Sunday, while the South Korean Prime Minister warned that the rapidly expanding epidemic linked to a local church and hospital in the southeast of the country had entered a “more serious phase”.
Some virus clusters have shown no direct connection to travel to China. The death toll in Iran has risen to six, the highest out of China, and a dozen cities in northern Italy have actually been blocked while authorities have tested hundreds of people who have come into contact with around 79 confirmed cases there. Two people died in Italy.
Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 113 of 120 new cases were reported in the fourth largest city of Daegu and surrounding areas. The agency said 70 of them are connected to a branch of the Shincheonji church in Daegu, which has become the largest group of viral infections in the country, which now has a total of 556 cases.
Daegu Mayor Kwon Yong-jin told reporters that 247 residents had tested positive for the virus since the city confirmed its first case on February 18. That first patient is a member of the Shincheonji church in Daegu who has no recent news of travel abroad. Officials said he attended religious services and visited other places before being diagnosed with the disease, but still believe that the woman is unlikely to trigger the chain of infections.
Kwon said there is concern that the number of infected people in Daegu will see a further huge increase as authorities have launched intensive tests of church members with virus-related symptoms. More than 9000 faithful were tested.
Downtown Daegu was mostly deserted with shelves in some empty supermarkets and shops. Many restaurants, bars, real estate offices and tourist agencies have closed due to closed traffic and people have stayed at home, ordering food and supplies online.
New cases in China
Mainland China reported 648 new infections on Sunday for a total of 76,936. The daily death toll dropped slightly to 97. Overall, 2,442 people died in the country from COVID-19.
The number of new Chinese cases has fluctuated every day, but has remained below 1,000 in the past four days. Several changes to the way infections are counted, however, have made it difficult to draw conclusions from the data.
The central Chinese city of Wuhan and other parts of Hubei province, where the epidemic first surfaced in December, remain blocked. Over 80% of the country’s cases are located in Hubei, where the death toll was also higher than in the rest of the nation.
The Chinese Politburo, made up of senior officials of the ruling Communist Party, warned Friday that while the epidemic was “contained at the outset”, the country has not yet seen a turnaround.
Officials reported that regular activities should gradually resume after the virus caused an extension to last month’s Lunar New Year holidays. Many workplaces have chosen to have their employees work remotely and schools hold online lessons.
In Beijing, most residential communities have implemented “closed management”, limiting the number of people per family who can enter and leave using entry and exit cards and requiring those who have just returned to the Chinese capital to isolate themselves. at home for 14 days.
A group of infections have been reported from Beijing’s Fuxing hospital. The facility, which has 34 confirmed cases, has been closed to protect the surrounding community, a statement from Xicheng District authorities said.
More than 500 cases have also been found in prisons across the country.
Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a male patient hospitalized in the city of Cheongdo near Daegu died on Sunday, the country’s fourth death. He was believed to be 57 years old, but no more details were made available about him.
On Saturday evening, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said in a national televised speech that the virus epidemic has entered “a more serious stage” and reiterated that the government is making every effort to contain the further spread of the disease. Chung also said that his government will deal severely with any act that hinders national quarantine efforts.
Globally, over 78,000 people have been infected in 29 countries.
Israel, which reported a case, brought back a South Korean airliner with most of its passengers after landing at the country’s Ben Gurion airport on Saturday evening. Twelve Israelis on board were evacuated and quarantined while the plane was taxed away from the assigned terminal, according to Israeli media.
Yonhap news agency cited the Seoul foreign ministry for recording a strong protest with the Israeli government. The foreign ministry told the Israeli government that excessive and unreasonable measures should not be taken against South Korean citizens, according to the report.
Seoul’s foreign ministry was not immediately reachable for comment. According to Yonhap, the plane returned to South Korea on Sunday afternoon.
South Korea previously informed Israel that nine members of a group that had visited Israel and the West Bank for a week this month had tested positive for the virus. Tourists were diagnosed on their return home. Israeli and Palestinian health authorities asked people who were in close contact with tourists to quarantine themselves.
A team of global experts with the World Health Organization is on their way to Wuhan, the epicenter of the Chinese epidemic, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Saturday. This week he visited other parts of China.
Tedros also told a meeting of African health ministers that WHO is concerned about cases “without a clear epidemiological link, such as the history of travel to China or contact with a confirmed case.” He is particularly concerned about the growing number of cases in Iran in which 28 people have been infected.