S. Korea ups alert to highest level as COVID-19 cases skyrocket

Feb 24, 2020, 09:02 am

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President Moon Jae-in speaks at an inter-agency meeting on COVID-19 at the Government Complex Seoul, Sunday./ Source: Yonhap News

By AsiaToday reporter Yoon Seo-young

Cases of COVID-19 coronavirus have skyrocketed in the past few days, seeing a tenfold increase from 51 on Wednesday to 601 on Sunday. More than half of confirmed cases are linked to the Shincheonji church in the country’s fourth-largest city of Daegu. The Shincheonji church in Daegu boasts nearly 10,000 members. As COVID-19 cases have soared in the country especially in Daegu and its surrounding North Gyeongsang Province, South Korea raised its alert level for the virus to the highest level for the first time since the outbreak of Influenza A (H1N1) in 2009. 

Since patient no. 31’s case has gone public, frightened residents of Daegu began buying up a large quantity of food and other supplies. Public spaces, such as stores and restaurants, are reportedly empty as people avoid them in fear of getting infected. The soaring number of confirmed cases in the past few days sparked fears among the residents, and more people are avoiding going outside amid the spread of the virus across the country.

As of 4 p.m. Sunday, the number of the total confirmed cases spiked to 602. Among them, 329 cases are tied to the Daegu branch of the secretive religious group, accounting for 54.6 percent. More than half of those infected are linked to members of the group and people who came into contact with them.

Three people died from the virus, putting death toll at 6. The fourth victim of the novel virus was a patient at Daenam Hospital in the southeastern city of Cheongdo, where more than 110 people, including nine medical staff, were found to be infected. The 57-year-old patient suffered from serious pneumonia before being infected with the virus.

As the number of confirmed cases spiked in various regions, regardless of age or gender, the government raised the virus alert level to “red,” the highest in its four-tier system. The medical community, including the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases, recommended the government to raise the alert level to the highest in order to take preemptive measures to curb the spread of the virus across the country. As the country is on its highest alert for the disease, the current response system will be transferred to the Prime Minister’s Office and will be promoted to the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters.

In addition, as Daegu and its adjacent county Cheongdo are designated as “special care zones,” more private medical institutions and medical staff will be added in the regions.

As the number of patients is soaring in the two regions, health authorities are expected to secure 246 beds from Keimyung University Dongsan Medical Center, 274 beds from Daegu Medical Center and put in 101 medical personnel for the disease treatment. The country is carrying out around 5,000 to 6,000 tests every day.

Health authorities are focusing on two points to reduce the risk of further transmission across the country – Those related to the Shincheonji and Daenam hospital in Cheongdo.

“The most important thing is to make early diagnosis of the Shincheonji church members, their families, and those who came into contact with them, in order to prevent the secondary and tertiary transmissions,” said Jung Eun-kyung, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control (KCDC). “All the patients, except two, that were hospitalized in the mental ward of Daenam Hospital are infected. The main focus is on providing safe treatment and care for them,” she said. The number of confirmed cases linked to Daenam Hospital is 111. 

The youngest patient in the country was also reported early Sunday. The 4-year-old child is receiving proper treatment and is currently in a stable condition. “Fortunately, the COVID-19 gives little impact to young children compared to other age groups,” said Choi Eun-hwa, professor of pediatrics at Seoul National University College of Medicine.

From North Gyeongsang Province, most of the newly confirmed patients are Catholic group who recently visited religious sites in Israel. 18 out of 39 Catholic pilgrims who recently made a group pilgrimage to Israel have been confirmed to be infected with the virus. 

The government is conducting an inspection on Shincheonji church members. There are 9,334 members in the Daegu branch. Of them, 1,248 have shown COVID-19-related symptoms. 

#South Korea #COVID-19 #alert #Shincheonji #Daenam Hospital 
Copyright by Asiatoday