Schools were shuttered, churches told worshipers to stay away and some mass gatherings were banned as cases of a new virus swelled Friday in South Korea, the newest front in a widening global outbreak.
The country said a total of 204 people were infected with the virus, quadruple the number it had two days earlier, as a crisis centered in China has begun strongly reverberating elsewhere.
The multiplying caseload in South Korea showed the ease with which the illness can spread. Though initial infections were linked to China, new ones have not involved international travel.
“We have entered an emergency phase,” Prime Minister Chung Se-kyun said in televised comments at the start of a government meeting on the health emergency. “Our efforts until now had been focused on blocking the illness from entering the country. But we will now shift the focus on preventing the illness from spreading further in local communities.”
Daegu, a southeastern city of 2.5 million that is the country’s fourth largest, emerged as the focus of government efforts to contain the disease known as COVID-19, and Chung promised support to ease a shortage in hospital beds, medical personnel and equipment. Mayor Kwon Young-jin of Daegu has urged residents to stay inside, even wearing masks at home, to stem further infection.
The first case in Daegu was reported on Tuesday. By Friday, the area had 153.
Nationwide, the numbers told of a ballooning problem. There were 20 new cases reported Wednesday, 53 on Thursday and 100 on Friday.
The central government declared a “special management zone” around Daegu on Friday, which didn’t restrict movement of residents or supersede local officials’ power but served as official recognition of the problem. A total of 110 infections have been confirmed in Daegu and surrounding areas, including South Korea’s first fatality from COVID-19.
Most of those cases have been linked to a single house of worship, a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, where a woman in her 60s attended two services before testing positive for the virus.
About 1,000 others who attended services with the woman have been isolated in their homes for screening, and health authorities say they’re trying to monitor thousands of other church members.
All 74 sites operated by the Shincheonji Church have been closed and worshipers have been told to instead watch services online for a sect whose leader claims to be an angel of Christ, but who is dismissed by many outsiders as a cult leader. Its teachings revolve largely around the Book of Revelation, a chapter of the New Testament known mostly for its apocalyptic foreshadowing.
Health and city officials say the woman eyed as a potential transmitter at the church had contact with some 1,160 people, both at the church and at a restaurant and a hospital where she was treated for injuries from a car accident. That raised fears that South Korea — which before Wednesday had recorded just 31 cases of the virus — should brace for a further surge.[ad_2]