South Korea becomes biggest coronavirus centre outside China

By Ritu,

Capital Sands

South Korea reported 161 more coronavirus cases Monday, taking the nationwide total to 763 and making it the world’s largest total outside China.

The country has seen a rapid surge in the number of coronavirus cases — adding more than 700 cases in less than a week — since a cluster of infections emerged from a religious sect in the southern city of Daegu.

Most of the country’s cases are connected to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the southern city of Daegu, including 129 of Monday’s confirmations, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.

Two more people had died, it added — both of them connected to a second cluster around a hospital in Cheongdo — taking the toll to seven.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Sunday raised the country’s virus alert to the highest “red” level, in a bid to strengthen the government response to the spiralling outbreak.

The government has extended kindergarten and school holidays by one week nationwide and plans to enforce tighter two-week monitoring of arrivals from China.

The outbreak has forced South Korean tech giant Samsung Electronics to suspend operations at its smartphone plant in Gumi, 200 kilometres  southeast of Seoul, after one of its employees was infected at the weekend.

The Gumi plant manufactures high-end products for the domestic market, including Samsung’s latest Galaxy S20 and luxury Galaxy Z Flip models.

The Shincheonji cluster began with a 61-year-old woman who developed a fever on February 10 and attended at least four services in Daegu – South Korea’s fourth-biggest city, with a population of 2.5 million — before being diagnosed.

Daegu mayor Kwon Young-jin said 85 percent of the city’s 292 cases were linked to Shincheonji.

Authorities say some 9,300 Shincheonji members in Daegu have either been quarantined or have been asked to stay at home, but hundreds have still yet to be reached.