S. Korea on high alert over virus, Italy struggles to contain outbreak

Published on : Monday, February 24, 2020

South Korea on Monday reported another large jump in new virus cases Monday a day after the president called for “unprecedented, powerful” steps to combat the outbreak that is iconfounding attempts to stop the spread.

 

The 161 new cases bring South Korea’s total to 763 cases, and two more deaths raise its toll to seven.

 

China also Monday reported 409 new cases, raising the mainland’s total to 77,150 after a zigzag pattern of increases in recent days. The 150 new deaths from the COVID-19 illness raised China’s total to 2,592 and showed a spike after hovering below 100 for four days. All but one death were in Hubei province, where the outbreak emerged in December.

 

Significant jumps in cases outside China have raised concern of the outbreak getting out of control. South Korea has the third-highest national total behind China and Japan, and cases have rapidly increased in Italy and Iran in just a few days.

 

Most of Japan’s cases were from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where nearly one-fifth of its 3,711 passengers and crew became infected.

 

More than 140 of South Korea’s new cases were in and near the city of Daegu, where most of the country’s infections have so far occurred. Six of the seven deaths were linked to a hospital in Cheongdo, near Daegu, where a slew of infections were confirmed among patients in a mental ward.

 

While officials have expressed hope they could contain the outbreak to the region surrounding Daegu, some experts noted signs of the virus circulating nationwide, pointing to a number of cases in the capital, Seoul, and elsewhere that weren’t immediately traceable.

 

“In Daegu, the number of new cases that are being confirmed by tests is quite large, and if we fail to effectively stem community transmissions in this area, there would be a large possibility (that the illness) spreads nationwide,” South Korean Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said in a briefing, saying that the government aims to stabilise Daegu’s situation in four weeks.

 

He said that health officials plan to test all of the city’s residents exhibiting cold-like symptoms, which he said would be about 28,000 people. Health workers are also screening some 9,000 followers of the Daegu branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, where a woman in her 60s attended two services before testing positive for the virus.

 

Of the country’s 161 new cases, 129 were related to the church. Officials are also investigating a possible link between churchgoers and the spike in infections at a hospital in nearby Cheongdo.

 

The national government has shuttered schools, cancelled events, and asked companies to scatter working hours and keep employees at home if they experience coughs or other respiratory symptoms. It advised people to avoid crowded indoor spaces and pleaded that those who recently visited Daegu or nearby areas stay at home if possible for two weeks, asking reporters to exercise the same caution.


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